Oct. 14, 2010 — Many people who are at high risk for the flu — including health care workers — say they won’t be getting a flu shot this year, a Consumer Reports survey shows.
This year’s vaccine protects against the seasonal and H1N1 swine flu. The CDC now recommends flu vaccines for everyone older than 6 months. But the survey of 1,500 adults aged 18 or older shows that many don’t plan on heeding this advice.
The findings echo those of a series of surveys by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, which showed that 43% of Americans won’t get the flu shot this year, and that one-third of moms won’t vaccinate their kids.
In the new poll, 28% of health care workers said they didn’t plan on getting the flu vaccine this year. Just 45% of people who were considered at risk for the flu said they would get vaccinated this year, meaning a majority of people with diseases that place them at high risk for the flu and flu-related complications won’t get a flu shot.
People aged 65 and older are considered at high risk for flu based on their age, but just 51% said they plan on getting the flu vaccine this year.
Why Some People Aren’t Getting Flu Shots
When asked why they were skipping the flu vaccine, 45% of people polled cited that the swine flu epidemic was overblown last year, 44% said they were concerned about the side effects of the flu vaccine, 41% were concerned about its safety, and close to 30% felt the flu vaccine doesn’t work anyway.
“I thought that a considerably higher number of people would want to get the flu vaccine,” says Marvin Lipman, MD, chief medical adviser for Consumer Reports. “There are varied excuses and a lot has to do with the confusion and publicity that had everyone running to get swine flu vaccines last year,” he says. “A lot of people felt that last year’s publicity about the swine flu was overblown and therefore are not going to get the flu shot this year,” he tells WebMD.
Lipman says the survey shows other reasons may include “flu invincibility” — the attitude that “I never get the flu, so why would I need a flu shot?” Flu invincibility was more common among men than women, the survey shows.
But this attitude does more harm than good. Each year, the flu puts about 200,000 people in the hospital, and people with underlying health conditions, young children, and the elderly are at risk. The health care workers who care for these individuals are also on the front lines when it comes to spreading the flu.
“All health care workers should really be vaccinated against the flu,” Lipman says.
“There is a lot of concern that health care professionals could pass influenza on to patients, many of whom have compromised immune systems,” says CDC spokesman Glen Nowak, PhD. “You are not avoiding risk by not getting the flu shot, you are just taking a different set of risks and those may be greater.”
Best Time to Get Vaccinated
The ideal time to get the flu vaccine is in late September or October, Lipman says. “It takes about three weeks for the protective antibodies to build up, and they persist for months. If you get the flu shot in late September or October, your state of protection lasts six to eight months, right through flu season.”
Neil Schachter, MD, a professor of pulmonary medicine and medical director of the respiratory care department at Mount Sinai Center in New York City, says that he is often met with resistance when counseling patients about getting the flu shot.
“Everybody has their own prejudices, and sometimes you can’t get around what their mother told them about the flu shot or what they have seen on TV,” he says. “The flu vaccine is the safest way to approach the flu epidemic and we certainly encourage those people at high risk for themselves or to transmit the flu to others to get the vaccine.”
As far as what will happen this year with the flu or the flu vaccine, he thinks it may be too early to tell. “It is a little early to cry fire, but if you want to hedge your bets and have a safe and pleasant winter, I would bet on the flu shot,” he tells WebMD.