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Study Finds No Significant Difference in Flu Vaccine Uptake Between Caregiver and Noncaregivers

Kenneth Knapp, Ph.D., Leads Study On Socioeconomic Factors Influencing Flu Vaccine Uptake

March 08, 2023
Kenneth Knapp, Ph.D., assistant professor and interim vice chair of the department of public health
Kenneth Knapp, Ph.D.

Caregivers can derive a sense of purpose and meaning, but there are also several detrimental effects that coincide with assuming this responsibility. Caregiver burden is any negative impact or suffering perceived by the caregiver and may occur in the physical, emotional, social, financial or spiritual domains. Researchers have previously found that family caregivers often experience adverse health outcomes and practice less self-care. Based on this knowledge, Dr. Knapp and his colleagues hypothesized that caregivers would have a lower rate of flu vaccine uptake than noncaregivers.

The data for this 2016 to 2018 study is derived from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a U.S. state-based system of telephone surveys that collects data on non-institutionalized residents aged 18 years or older regarding their health-related risk behaviors, chronic health conditions, as well as the use of preventative services. Participants of the three-year survey were considered caregivers if they provided regular care or assisted a friend or family member with a health problem or disability. Of the 154,170 participants, 36 percent reported receiving a flu vaccine within the past 12 months. Only 20.5 percent of those who received a flu vaccine were caregivers.

Once the caregivers were identified, they were asked more specific questions pertaining to their role.

  1. Relationship between caregiver and care recipient.
  2. Duration of providing care from less than 30 days to more than five years.
  3. Average hours of care provided per week from no hours to more than 40 hours.
  4. Main health problem of the care recipient.

Compared with noncaregivers, caregivers were more likely to have fair or poor self-reported health status and identify as female, married or partnered and obtained at least a high school diploma.

Dr. Knapp and his team used bivariate analysis to estimate the difference in flu vaccination uptake among caregivers and noncaregivers and logistic regression to estimate differences after adjusting for individuals’ characteristics. Two categories of independent variables considered in this study were sociodemographic circumstances and health-related factors. The sociodemographic variables included age, sex, marital status, household income, educational attainment and race and ethnicity. Health-related variables included whether the participant had a doctor’s visit within the past two years, health insurance coverage and their self-reported health status of excellent, very good, good, fair or poor.

The methods applied in this study indicated that there was no significant difference in flu vaccine uptake between caregivers and noncaregivers. Caregiving characteristics, such as years in a caregiver role, weekly time spent caregiving, relationship to care recipient and recipient’s risk for flu complications were also nonsignificant. Sociodemographic factors did have a significant impact on flu vaccine uptake.

“It is well known that many caregivers neglect their own health due to time or financial stresses of caring for a family member, so it was somewhat surprising to discover that family caregivers are not less likely than the general population to get vaccinated against influenza,” said Dr. Knapp. “The problem is that vaccination rates are low.  This is true even among those caring for very ill family members who are most susceptible to flu complications. The CDC’s website urges caregivers and family members to get vaccinated to prevent flu from spreading to cancer patients and survivors – but this information is not easy to find.  What is needed is a clear message by health care providers, public health professionals and caregiver advocacy groups of the extreme importance of family caregivers getting vaccinated to help avoid unnecessary risks to those they love.”