Press Releases

2004 Releases

Six in Ten Seniors and Nearly Half of Chronically Ill Adults who Tried to Get Flu Vaccine Were Successful

For immediate release:  December 16, 2004  

Boston, MA -- A Harvard School of Public Health national survey released today found 63% of seniors and 46% of adults with chronic illnesses who tried to get the influenza vaccine were successful. However, 37% of seniors and 54% of those with chronic illnesses were unable to get the vaccine when they tried. [Figure 1].

The findings, released in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's December 17, 2004, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (, also show that 51% of seniors and 63% of chronically ill adults, two groups at high risk for serious complications from influenza, did not try to get the vaccine.

"Health officials and health care providers, including private physicians and nurses, need to continue their educational efforts emphasizing the need for these groups to get vaccinated," said Robert Blendon, Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. "News media and other reports suggest that in many communities there is now influenza vaccine available, especially for adults in the CDC's recommended priority groups."

For the complete survey and powerpoint slides see:

Top problems faced by those who could not get the vaccine

The survey found that the top problems experienced by those either age 65 and older or with a chronic illness who tried and could not get the vaccine were that there was no vaccine available when they tried to get it (68 percent said this was a major problem) and it was hard to find a place where they could get the vaccine (50 percent) [Figure 2]

Parents of children ages 6 -23 months

Most parents of children ages 6-23 months old were also able to get their child or children vaccinated. Overall, 50 percent of parents reported trying to get their child vaccinated, with 76 percent indicating they were successful. Generally, parents of 6-23 month old children reported experiencing fewer problems in trying to get the vaccine than the people in this season's other priority groups.

For children ages 6-23 months, the leading reasons for not trying to get inactivated influenza vaccine reported by parents were 1) not believing their children were at risk for a serious case of influenza (21%), 2) concern about the side effects (19%), 3) being told by a health-care provider that the child should not get the vaccine because of the shortages and because the child was not at high risk for having a serious case of influenza (18%) and 4) not believing that the influenza vaccine was effective (13%). This is the first season the CDC and others have recommended annual influenza vaccination for children 6-23 months old.

Why some adults in high-risk groups didn't try to get the vaccine

Among all adults at higher risk for developing serious complications from influenza, 60 percent reported that they did not try to get the influenza vaccine during the preceding 3 months. When asked why they did not try, one out of three (32%) said either that they were "waiting until more vaccine was available" or that they believed that "because of shortages, you could not get the vaccine." Other major reasons included 1) believing that they were "not at high risk for getting a serious case of influenza" (21 percent), 2) not believing that the "vaccine would be effective in preventing you from getting the flu" (18 percent), and 3) concerns that "you could get the flu from the vaccine" (18 percent).

Potential Interest in Non-F.D.A. Licensed Flu Vaccine
The U.S. government recently announced the likely availability of 1.2 million doses of FluarixTM influenza vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to help ease the vaccine shortage in the United States. Although Fluarix is fully licensed for use in Germany and about 29 other countries worldwide, it is not currently approved for general use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the FDA has deemed the vaccine safe and effective for this season under an investigational new drug application (IND).

In this survey, respondents were asked if they would be willing to receive a flu vaccine if no other vaccine were available after being told it was investigational. When asked this question, 56% of adults in priority groups said they would be willing to receive this vaccine. Americans who elect to receive investigational vaccines must sign a form. With this requirement imposed, willingness to take the vaccine decreased to 40% among adults in priority groups. [Figure 3]

"These findings highlight the need for those who may be offering this vaccine to provide patient education materials that give reassurance that it is safe to receive," said Professor Blendon.

This study was prepared by the Harvard School of Public Health Project on the Public and Biological Security. The Project is supported through a grant from the CDC to provide technical assistance by monitoring the response of the general public to health threats.

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 Catherine M. DesRoches, John M. Benson, and Kathleen J. Weldon 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 October 29 and November 9, 2004, with a nationally representative sample of 1227 adults nationwide, including 249 parent interviews of children ages 6-23 months.

Parents were asked a series of vaccine-related questions about each of their children in the age group. The findings about childrens vaccine experiences are representative of the total population of children that age in the U.S.

The margin of error for the total sample is ± 3 percentage points.

For further information contact:
Robin Herman