Press Releases

2003 Releases

Many Americans at High Risk from the Flu Have Not Gotten Vaccinated This Season

For immediate release:  December 23, 2003

Audio clips featured below
BOSTON, MA -- The latest national poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security finds that a significant number of Americans at high risk of serious complications from the flu have not gotten a flu vaccine this season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highly recommends the vaccine for certain high-risk groups including people with chronic illnesses, children between the ages of six and 23 months, and people aged 65 and over. Nearly half (47%) of people with chronic illnesses have not had a flu vaccination in the past three months. In addition, more than three-fourths (78%) of parents report that their children ages six to 23 months have not received a flu vaccine so far this season. This is the case even though the vaccine recommendation for these young children is widely known by Americans (74%).

One success this year in getting high-risk people vaccinated has been seniors. More than two-thirds (71%) of people aged 65 and older have received a flu vaccine so far this season.

“Clearly, in the weeks ahead, the focus has to be on trying to get these high-risk groups vaccinated,” said Robert Blendon, professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Project on the Public and Biological Security.

The complete survey is available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/press/releases/blendon/flu_topline.doc
Charts available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/press/releases/blendon/flu_vaccine.ppt
ppt
Shortages of Flu Vaccine Affect One in 10 Americans
One in 10 Americans (10%) report that they have not gotten a flu vaccine due at least in part to shortages. About one-third of these people (3% of the public) still plan to get vaccinated in the next three months, but two-thirds (7%) do not.

One in 10 parents (10%) report that they have not gotten their children age six months to under 18 years old a flu vaccination due at least in part to shortages. Half (5%) still plan to get their child a vaccination this season, but half (5%) do not.

Four percent of Americans age 65 and older and six percent of adults with chronic illnesses report that they have not gotten a flu vaccine due at least in part to shortages.

Only two percent of those who have gotten a flu vaccine report having had any difficulty getting it.

These findings, based on interviews with 1,037 non-institutionalized adults nationwide, including 340 parents of children age six months to under 18 years old, come at a time when influenza activity is reported as widespread in 36 states.

Reasons Why Many Americans Don’t Plan to Get Flu Vaccine
Nearly half (49%) of American adults report that they do not plan to get a flu vaccine this season, mainly citing reasons other than vaccine shortages. Of those who do not plan to get vaccinated, only 14 percent say shortages are a reason. The most frequently named reasons for not planning to get a flu vaccination are: they do not think they are at risk of getting a serious case of the flu (54%); they do not think the vaccine would be effective in preventing them from getting the flu (45%); and they are concerned about side effects (42%). One in eight Americans (13%) believe that they have had the flu in the past three months.

Some 44 percent of parents do not plan to get a flu vaccine this season for their children between the ages of six months to under 18 years old. Of parents who do not plan to get their children vaccinated, one in eight (12%) cite vaccine shortages as a reason. The most frequently named reasons for not getting their child a flu vaccination are: they do not think their child is at risk of getting a serious case of the flu (46%); they are concerned about side effects (41%); their child does not like shots (36%); and they do not think the vaccine would be effective in preventing their child from getting the flu (36%). The CDC does not make a specific recommendation that all adults and children receive the flu vaccine.

“Shortages of the flu vaccine are not the main reason people are not getting vaccinated,” said Blendon, “but there are still many Americans who want to get the vaccine who are going without it because of the scarcity. This needs to be addressed by public policy makers.”

Concerns about the Side Effects of Flu Vaccine
Although there is substantial public demand for the flu vaccine, a share of the public has concerns about the safety of the flu vaccine. About three in 10 (29%) believe that a person who gets a flu shot is very or somewhat likely to become seriously ill or die. Nearly half (45%) believe that a person getting a flu shot is likely to get the flu from the vaccine. According to the CDC: “The risk of a vaccine causing harm or death is extremely small. Serious problems from flu vaccine are very rare.”
www.cdc.gov/nip/publications/VIS/vis-flu.pdf

At the same time, most Americans underestimate the number of people who die from the flu in this country. Three in five (58%) believe that 10,000 or fewer people die from the flu in the U.S. in a typical year, less than one-third of the actual number of fatalities from the disease (the average is 36,000 per year).

Many Americans Believe the Flu Is Worse This Year Than in Past Years and Most
Believe  the U.S. Is Experiencing a Flu Vaccine Shortage
Half of Americans believe that more people are getting sick with the flu this year (50%) and that this year’s flu is more likely to make a person seriously ill compared with past outbreaks (45%). Three in five (62%) are concerned that they or a family member may get the flu in the next three months. More than three-fourths (80%) of Americans believe the U.S. has been experiencing shortages of the flu vaccine this year.

Nasal Spray Vaccine
This year a nasal spray vaccine called FluMist™ has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an alternative to a flu shot for healthy people age five to 49. Most people (73%) have heard of FluMist™, but only one in eight adults getting a flu vaccine during the last three months (13%) say they were told by their health care provider that the nasal spray vaccine was available to them. The survey did not measure how many people actually received the nasal spray vaccine.

The CDC is the Most Trusted Source of Information about the Flu Vaccine
In a year when there has been some conflicting information about who should receive the flu vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the most trusted of several groups as a source of reliable information about the flu vaccine. Three-fourths (75%) said they trusted the CDC a great deal or a good amount. About two-thirds trust their state (66%) and local health department (65%).

(For information about the flu, go to the CDC website, http://www.cdc.gov/flu/.)

Methodology

This is the 13th in a series of studies by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security. The project was funded through the federally-supported Center for Public Health Preparedness at HSPH.

The study was designed and analyzed by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health. The project director is Robert J. Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health. The research team also includes John M. Benson, Catherine M. DesRoches, Kathleen Weldon, Elizabeth Raleigh, Stephen Pelletier, and Kalahn Taylor-Clark of the Harvard School of Public Health and Melissa J. Herrmann of ICR/International Communications Research. Fieldwork was conducted via telephone for the Project by ICR/International Communications Research of Media (PA) between December 12-16, 2003. The survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 1,037 non-institutionalized adults age 18 and over, including 340 parents of children age six months or older but under 18 years old. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus three percentage points; for the parents, plus or minus 5.5 percentage points.

Possible sources of nonsampling error include nonresponse bias, as well as question wording and ordering effects. Nonresponse in telephone surveys produces some known biases in survey-derived estimates because participation tends to vary for different subgroups of the population. To compensate for these known biases, sample data are weighted to the most recent Census data available from the Current Population Survey for gender, age, race, education, as well as number of adults and number of telephone lines in the household. Other techniques, including random-digit dialing, replicate subsamples, callbacks staggered over times of day and days of the week, and systematic respondent selection within households, are used to ensure that the sample is representative.

Listen to audio clips

Robert Blendon describes American's views on this year's flu
WAV MP3

Robert Blendon describes surprising findings from the survey
WAV MP3

For further information contact:
Robin Herman
Director, Office of Communications
(617) 432-4752
rherman@hsph.harvard.edu