Examining Perceptions about Mandatory Influenza Vaccination of Healthcare Workers through Online Comments on News Stories
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BACKGROUND: The aim of this study was to understand online public perceptions of the debate surrounding the choice of annual influenza vaccinations or wearing masks as a condition of employment for healthcare workers, such as the one enacted in British Columbia in August 2012. METHODS: Four national and 82 local (British Columbia) Canadian online news sites were searched for articles posted between August 2012 and May 2013 containing the words "healthcare workers" and "mandatory influenza vaccinations/immunizations" or "mandatory flu shots and healthcare workers." We included articles from sources that predominantly concerned our topic of interest and that generated reader comments. Two researchers coded the unedited comments using thematic analysis, categorizing codes to allow themes to emerge. In addition to themes, the comments were categorized by: 1) sentiment towards influenza vaccines; 2) support for mandatory vaccination policies; 3) citing of reference materials or statistics; 4) self-identified health-care worker status; and 5) sharing of a personal story. RESULTS: 1163 comments made by 648 commenters responding to 36 articles were analyzed. Popular themes included concerns about freedom of choice, vaccine effectiveness, patient safety, and distrust in government, public health, and the pharmaceutical industry. Almost half (48%) of commenters expressed a negative sentiment toward the influenza vaccine, 28% were positive, 20% were neutral, and 4% expressed mixed sentiment. Of those who commented on the policy, 75% did not support the condition to work policy, while 25% were in favour. Of the commenters, 11% self-identified as healthcare workers, 13% shared personal stories, and 18% cited a reference or statistic. INTERPRETATION: The perception of the influenza vaccine in the comment sections of online news sites is fairly poor. Public health agencies should consider including online forums, comment sections, and social media sites as part of their communication channels to correct misinformation regarding the benefits of HCW influenza immunization and the effectiveness of the vaccine.
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