Report says only about half of Americans plan to get flu shots

11/12/2008

YONKERS, N.Y. According to a new survey from Consumer Reports Health, just 52 percent of Americans plan to get the flu vaccine this year, in light of the fact that the flu vaccine is the best option for prevention.

“Despite the prevalence and potential seriousness of the flu, we found that many adults are surprisingly misinformed about both the flu and flu vaccination,” said John Santa, a doctor and director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. “People need to know that getting a flu vaccination every year is the best way to prevent the flu. The vaccine will not make them sick or give them the flu. Without it, they and their families are at higher risk for getting the flu. If they get the flu they may transmit it to vulnerable people for whom the consequences may be serious.”

Fewer than half of those surveyed (49 percent) by Consumer Reports knew that the government recommends that everyone over 6 months old get vaccinated against the flu.

Any cost associated with the flu vaccine in tight economic times is really not an issue, those who have had the vaccine shot reported. As many as 65 percent of those who got a flu shot did not pay out-of-pocket; others reported a small cost.

Approximately 67 percent suggested it was better to build your own natural immunities to the influenza virus, though that common misperception has been debunked by science.

“There is no evidence that people who get flu shots have lower natural immunities or that people who don’t get flu shots have higher immunities,” Santa said. Other reasons cited for not getting the vaccine included a perception that they don’t get sick (45 percent), understandable given the last few years in which there has not been a considerable incidence of flu-related illnesses that past two seasons.

Some 41 percent of consumers hold to the misperception that either they have themselves gotten sick from the actual vaccine, or know somebody who has. For those with an allergy to eggs, this may be true. But for the majority of Americans, inoculation with an inactive influenza virus as part of the vaccine does not overtax a person’s immune system. Another 26 percent of people who choose not to get a vaccine believe the vaccine is ineffective.

And while there is the possibility in any given year that a flu vaccine does not protect wholly against the actual virus that becomes prevalent—the vast majority of times the flu vaccine is a good fit to the viruses that become prevalent.

Other consumers not planning to get a flu vaccination said that they were worried about side effects (35 percent); that medication is now available to treat the flu (28 percent); that they don’t like getting shots (27 percent); or that they don’t like going to the doctor (23 percent). And some 5 percent even said that they'd rather get sick than go to work.

“Sounds like a lot of excuses and misconceptions to avoid a quick and inexpensive, if not free, shot,” Santa said.

For those not getting the flu shot, they still employ strategies to avoid getting sick during the cold or flu season, such as washing their hands more frequently (81 percent) and eating healthy (79 percent). Many also employ more extreme measures, such as using paper towels to open bathroom doors (42 percent), avoiding large crowds (29 percent), avoiding travel on planes, trains or buses (23 percent), or even avoiding shaking hands (18 percent).

The survey results also showed that men are more likely than women to go to work while battling common illness. The symptoms that are much more likely to keep women home than men include fever, diarrhea, nausea, and severe cough.

The survey was conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, and consisted of 2,011 interviews among adults age 18 and older between Oct. 9 and Oct. 14.

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