Healthcare workers' perceptions and experiences of communicating with people over 50 years of age about vaccination: a qualitative evidence synthesis

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BACKGROUND: Infectious diseases are a major cause of illness and death among older adults. Vaccines can prevent infectious diseases, including against seasonal influenza, pneumococcal diseases, herpes zoster and COVID-19. However, the uptake of vaccination among older adults varies across settings and groups. Communication with healthcare workers can play an important role in older people's decisions to vaccinate. To support an informed decision about vaccination, healthcare workers should be able to identify the older person's knowledge gaps, needs and concerns. They should also be able to share and discuss information about the person's disease risk and disease severity; the vaccine's effectiveness and safety; and practical information about how the person can access vaccines. Therefore, healthcare workers need good communication skills and to actively keep up-to-date with the latest evidence. An understanding of their perceptions and experiences of this communication can help us train and support healthcare workers and design good communication strategies.

OBJECTIVES: To explore healthcare workers' perceptions and experiences of communicating with older adults about vaccination.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched MEDLINE, CINAHL and Scopus on 21 March 2020. We also searched Epistemonikos for related reviews, searched grey literature sources, and carried out reference checking and citation searching to identify additional studies. We searched for studies in any language.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included qualitative studies and mixed-methods studies with an identifiable qualitative component. We included studies that explored the perceptions and experiences of healthcare workers and other health system staff towards communication with adults over the age of 50 years or their informal caregivers about vaccination.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We extracted data using a data extraction form designed for this review. We assessed methodological limitations using a list of predefined criteria. We extracted and assessed data regarding study authors' motivations for carrying out their study. We used a thematic synthesis approach to analyse and synthesise the evidence. We used the GRADE-CERQual (Confidence in the Evidence from Reviews of Qualitative research) approach to assess our confidence in each finding. We examined each review finding to identify factors that may influence intervention implementation and we developed implications for practice.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 11 studies in our review. Most studies explored healthcare workers' views and experiences about vaccination of older adults more broadly but also mentioned communication issues specifically. All studies were from high-income countries. The studies focused on doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others working in hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and nursing homes. These healthcare workers discussed different types of vaccines, including influenza, pneumococcal and herpes zoster vaccines. The review was carried out before COVID-19 vaccines were available. We downgraded our confidence in several of the findings from high confidence to moderate, low or very low confidence. One reason for this was that some findings were based on only small amounts of data. Another reason was that the findings were based on studies from only a few countries, making us unsure about the relevance of these findings to other settings. Healthcare workers reported that older adults asked about vaccination to different extents, ranging from not asking about vaccines at all, to great demand for information (high confidence finding). When the topic of vaccination was discussed, healthcare workers described a lack of information, and presence of misinformation, fears and concerns about vaccines among older adults (moderate confidence). The ways in which healthcare workers discussed vaccines with older adults appeared to be linked to what they saw as the aim of vaccination communication. Healthcare workers differed among themselves in their perceptions of this aim and about their own roles and the roles of older adults in vaccine decisions. Some healthcare workers thought it was important to provide information but emphasised the right and responsibility of older adults to decide for themselves. Others used information to persuade and convince older adults to vaccinate in order to increase 'compliance' and 'improve' vaccination rates, and in some cases to gain financial benefits. Other healthcare workers tailored their approach to what they believed the older adult needed or wanted (moderate confidence). Healthcare workers believed that older adults' decisions could be influenced by several factors, including the nature of the healthcare worker-patient relationship, the healthcare worker's status, and the extent to which healthcare workers led by example (low confidence). Our review also identified factors that are likely to influence how communication between healthcare workers and older adults take place. These included issues tied to healthcare workers' views and experiences regarding the diseases in question and the vaccines; as well as their views and experiences of the organisational and practical implementation of vaccine services.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is little research focusing specifically on healthcare workers' perceptions and experiences of communication with older adults about vaccination. The studies we identified suggest that healthcare workers differed among themselves in their perceptions about the aim of this communication and about the role of older adults in vaccine decisions. Based on these findings and the other findings in our review, we have developed a set of questions or prompts that may help health system planners or programme managers when planning or implementing strategies for vaccination communication between healthcare workers and older adults.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages53
JournalThe Cochrane database of systematic reviews
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • age factors
  • aged
  • caregivers
  • communication
  • decision making
  • health knowledge, attitudes, practice
  • health personnel/psychology
  • herpes zoster vaccine/administration & dosage
  • humans
  • influenza vaccines/administration & dosage
  • middle aged
  • persuasive communication
  • pneumococcal vaccines/administration & dosage
  • professional-family relations
  • qualitative research
  • vaccination/psychology
  • vaccines/administration


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