Press Releases

2004 Releases

Most Americans Not Concerned About Getting Mad Cow Disease

For immediate release: February 02, 2004 

BOSTON, MA- A new national study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security finds that most Americans are not concerned about getting Mad Cow Disease. Less than one in four (18%) are concerned that they or someone in their immediate family will be infected by the disease. Less than one in 10 (9%) think they or a family member is likely to become infected by Mad Cow Disease in the next 12 months. This compares with 70 percent who think they or a family member is likely to get the flu.

However, one in six Americans (16%) say that they or someone in their family has stopped ordering beef at fast food restaurants because of reports about Mad Cow Disease. Similarly, 14% say they or a family member has stopped buying beef at the grocery store. Among those who are concerned that they or a family member will become infected with the disease, four in 10 report having stopped ordering beef at fast food restaurants (41%) and stopped buying beef at the grocery store (40%).

“If people became more concerned about the threat of Mad Cow Disease, it could have a substantial impact on the beef industry, even though the disease might only ultimately affect a small number of people,” said Robert J. Blendon, professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health.

One in four Americans (27%) mistakenly believe that Mad Cow Disease has been found in humans in the U.S. Only a single case of Mad Cow Disease has been reported in cattle, and no humans have been found to have contracted the disease in the U.S. This contrasts with the U.K., where there have been 143 human cases and Mad Cow Disease has become a major issue.

These findings are based on interviews conducted January 7-11, 2004, with 1,015 adults nationwide.

The complete survey is available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/press/releases/blendon/mad_cow_topline.doc

Additional flu vaccine survey available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/press/releases/blendon/flu_vax_topline.doc

Charts are available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/press/releases/blendon/mad_cow_tables.ppt


Four in 10 Americans Do Not Have Confidence in the Meat Inspection System
Four in ten Americans (41%) say that they have only some (26%) or very little (15%) confidence in the current meat inspection system in the U.S. to protect Americans from becoming infected by Mad Cow Disease. Among those who are concerned that they or a family member might becoming infected with the disease, six in ten (60%) do not have confidence in the inspection system.

There is no public consensus on who should be mainly responsible in the future for preventing the spread of Mad Cow Disease in the U.S. Nearly the same proportions thought that producers of cattle feed (33%), the federal government (31%), and the American beef industry (29%) should be mainly responsible for preventing spread of the disease.

No Public Consensus on Blame for Flu Vaccine Shortages

In another recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security, two-thirds (66%) of Americans believe that the U.S. has been experiencing shortages of flu vaccine. However, there is no public consensus on who is to blame for the shortages. About one in four blame vaccine manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies (27%) and people getting vaccinated who are not at high risk of serious complications from the flu (24%). One in five (19%) blame government, either federal government public health agencies (15%) or state and local governments (4%).

When asked who should make sure that the U.S. has enough flu vaccine in the future, a majority (52%) believed government should be mainly responsible, either federal government public health agencies (33%) or state and local governments (19%). About one in four (23%) thought vaccine manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies should be mainly responsible.

“If another serious outbreak occurs, there will be public pressure to have someone accountable for having an adequate supply of flu vaccine,” said Professor Blendon.

Although most of the public believes that there have been shortages of flu vaccine, nearly half (45%) of Americans think that the media have overestimated the seriousness of the vaccine shortage problem.

(For a more extensive discussion of public response to this season’s flu outbreak, go to http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/press/releases/press12232003.html.)

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

Methodology

These are the fourteenth and fifteenth 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 studies 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. The surveys were conducted via telephone for the Project by ICR/International Communications Research of Media (PA) between January 7 and January 11, 2004 (Mad Cow Disease) and between December 17 and December 21, 2003 (the flu), with nationally representative sample of 1,015 and 1,046 adults age 18 and over, respectively. The margin of error for both surveys is plus or minus 3 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.

For further information, please contact:
Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Ave.,
Boston MA 02115
617-432-4752
rherman@hsph.harvard.edu