Text message campaign fails to boost vaccination rate

Companies like GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Pfizer ($PFE) are trying text messaging in hopes of boosting vaccination rates, because the failure of patients to comply with treatment and vaccination regimens is a big problem. Each year it costs drugmakers $188 billion in U.S. sales, consulting firm Capgemini found, and society suffers, too. This is especially true of vaccines, for which herd immunity is so important.

But this week a pilot study has brought dispiriting news for proponents of boosting adherence through text messaging. A study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that a series of text message prompts failed to increase vaccination rates among pregnant women.

The 204 participants were primarily African-American women with low educational attainment and either public or no insurance. Roughly half the women were sent 12 weekly text messages promoting general pregnancy health. The other half received the same prompts, plus vaccine information. There was no statistical difference between the vaccination rates of either group, with close to one-third of people getting immunized regardless of what messages they received.

As PMLiVE notes, other studies have had more success with text messages. The format has a higher success rate among people who are already willing to get vaccinated. And text messages have also worked as single prompts to encourage people to stop smoking, or manage a chronic condition. The Obstetrics & Gynecology pilot study may have simply encountered a limitation of texting. It appears effective as a reminder, but is insufficient to change the recipient's opinion. If that is the goal, a more comprehensive patient education effort is needed.

In December, GSK teamed up with mobile phone group Vodafone to use text messages to alert mothers about the availability of vaccinations and help them to schedule appointments. And Pfizer offers a downloadable app called Vaxtext that helps parents and caregivers track their child's vaccination schedule through reminders about when vaccines are due delivered via text message.

Text messaging is a particularly attractive way of communicating with what the researchers call "a low-income, urban, ambulatory obstetric population." Yet in light of the failure of the pilot study, the paper calls for ongoing efforts to improve uptake among pregnant women who are unwilling to take the vaccine.

- read the PMLiVE piece
- here's the journal abstract 

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