A new Consumer Reports Health poll reveals a disconcerting proportion of "at risk" groups who will not get the flu vaccine this year. Of most concern, only 40 percent of Americans in the "work risk" categorymeaning those who care for young children and those who work in residential nursing homes, hospitals and other healthcare environmentssaid they would definitely get the vaccine this year, which combines the seasonal and the 2009 H1N1 (swine) flus, while 28 percent said they would definitely not get the vaccine.
"It's troubling to hear that people caring for young children, including infants, and the elderly are not planning on getting the vaccine. These healthcare workers are among the most likely to catch the disease and spread it to individuals in their care. And it's no secret that small children and the elderly are at high risk for complications and even death," says Orly Avitzur, MD, medical adviser for Consumer Reports Health. Poll highlights and guidance for flu and other vaccines are available online at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.
The nationally representative poll, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, found additional examples of "at risk" populations living in a bubble. For example, only 45 percent of Americans considered "at health risk" said they definitely planned on getting the flu vaccine this year. This category includes people with lung conditions such as asthma, diabetics, people with heart conditions (except hypertension), those with immune system problems, and those with neurological or neuromuscular disease. All of these conditions are linked to an increased likelihood of flu-related complications. "We suspect that part of the problem involves a lack of understanding of one's own health risksin fact, only 42 percent of those at health risk for flu complications described themselves as such," says Avitzur.
Only 51 percent of those in the "age-risk" category (i.e. those who are 65 and older) said they would definitely get the combined vaccine. About one-third (33 percent) of those 65 and older believed they were at high risk of seasonal flu complications.
Reasons for not getting this year's vaccine lead with the belief that the swine flu epidemic was overblown last year (45 percent), followed by concerns about side effects (44 percent) and safety of the vaccine (41 percent). Nearly one-third (28 percent) said they believed the vaccine doesn't work.
Other poll highlights:
- Overall, only 37 percent of those polled said they would definitely get the combined vaccine this year while 31 percent said it depends. Thirty percent said they will definitely not get the vaccine this year.
- Of those who did not get the seasonal flu vaccine last year, the top reason was the mistaken belief that it's best to build one's own natural immunities. "We encourage every American to get this year's combined seasonal and 2009 H1N1 (swine) flu vaccine," says Avitzur.
- Men were more likely than women (46 percent versus 35 percent) to cite "I do not get the flu" as a reason for not getting the flu vaccine. Overall, 41 percent cited this excuse, a significant drop from the 54 percent who provided the same rationale in 2008, suggesting that more Americans are getting the message that they can't count on being immune to the flu.
- When it comes to confidence in the safety of the combined vaccine, 69 percent said they were very or somewhat confident in the safety of the 2010 flu vaccine. By comparison, 62 percent were confident in the last year's H1N1 vaccine. But overall, 25 percent were not too confident or not confident at all in the safety of the vaccine.
- Americans who are on the fence about getting this year's vaccine cited the following factors that might influence their plans this year: Advice from their healthcare provider (73 percent); reports about outbreaks in the community (62 percent); guidelines or warnings from local or state health departments and/or federal agencies such as the Surgeon General or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (57 percent).
- On a positive note, 58 percent of parents had their children vaccinated for seasonal flu last year, compared to only 41 percent in 2008.
- More good news: the majority of Americans (66 percent) told Consumer Reports Health that last year the swine shot and/or nasal vaccine was administered at no charge. And, in another sign that cost is not an impediment for Americans, only a small number (12 percent) cited cost as a reason for not getting the seasonal flu shot last year.
A total of 1,500 adults ages 18 and older were recruited via random digit dialing by Princeton Survey Research International. The margin of error is +/-2.9 percent.