Survey: a third of people think flu vaccine causes flu

Dec 20, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – In one of several reports on influenza vaccine last week, federal health officials reported that about a third of people who responded to a survey last winter thought that the vaccine caused flu.

The random telephone survey of 2,231 adults in 11 states showed that 32.8% thought they could acquire flu from the vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in the Dec 17 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The survey was conducted last February.

Most of the flu vaccine used in the United States is an injectable vaccine containing inactivated (killed) flu virus. Also available this year is an intranasal vaccine, FluMist, involving a weakened, live virus. The injectable vaccine is approved for those aged 6 months and up, whereas FluMist is approved only for healthy people between the ages of 5 and 49 years.

In a news teleconference the day the survey findings came out, CDC Director Julie Gerberding, MD, sought to dispel the notion that flu vaccine can cause the illness it is intended to prevent.

"There's absolutely no information to even suggest that could be the case," she said, as quoted in the conference transcript. "Based on the kind of vaccine production and experience we've had, we know that flu vaccine does not cause flu; at least injectable flu vaccine does not cause flu. But there's a disproportionate number of people in the old age groups who are afraid that it does."

Gerberding made the remarks while discussing the varying levels of flu vaccine coverage for people in vaccination priority groups, including the elderly, chronically ill, and children aged 6 to 23 months. According to another, larger CDC survey, states where fewer than 30% of residents received flu shots between September and November of this year included Arizona, Oklahoma, Illinois, Florida, South Carolina, Vermont, and Maine. Overall, the survey showed, 34.8% of people in priority groups were vaccinated during that period.

"Where states have large numbers of elderly people, there is a disproportionate reluctance to get vaccine because of fears of the vaccine itself," Gerberding said. "So I'm trying to send a very strong message today that flu vaccine does not cause flu, and if you are 65 or older, please get the shot."

Her comments came as the CDC reported that the nation was expected to have enough doses to meet the demand from priority groups this season and that some states had extra vaccine.

The February survey also showed that 82% of the respondents were willing to wear a mask if they visited a healthcare provider because of a flu-like illness, but only 8% of those who had visited a provider for that reason had actually been asked to wear a mask.

In other findings, about 71% of respondents said they believed flu vaccine was "somewhat or very effective," and 64% were willing to vaccinate their children against flu.

CDC. Experiences with influenza-like illness and attitudes regarding influenza prevention—United States, 2004-04 influenza season. MMWR 2004 Dec 17;53(49):1156-8 [Full text]

See also:

Transcript of Dec 16 CDC news conference

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