More than 40% of Americans have not been vaccinated against influenza this year and don’t plan to get vaccinated, despite repeated warnings about the potential dangers of the flu, as well as last year’s record-high number of deaths from flu, a new survey indicates.
The survey included 1202 interviews with a nationally representative sample of adults aged 18 years and older. It was conducted between November 14 and 19 by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.
Results showed that 43% of adults had received the flu shot and that 14% had not yet been vaccinated but intended to get vaccinated this season. Yet, 41% of adults surveyed said they had not been vaccinated and did not intend to get vaccinated. About 2% were undecided about getting the flu shot or did not respond to the question.
The highest vaccination rate (62%) was for adults older than 60 years, a group at higher risk for flu-related complications. However, 1 in 4 (24%) people aged 60 years and older did not plan to get vaccinated this year.
Adults younger than 45 were the least likely to report being vaccinated. Roughly half of this group indicated that they did not plan to receive a vaccination this year.
Among adults who have children younger than 18 years living in their home, 39% said they do not vaccinate their children.
The top reasons people cited for not getting vaccinated against the flu were concern about side effects from the vaccine (36%), concern about getting the flu from the vaccine (31%), and because they never get the flu or they do not think the flu vaccine works (31%).
“Unfortunately, many people are still not getting flu shots due to broader misconceptions about the value of receiving a flu shot and concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines,” Caitlin Oppenheimer, MPH, senior vice president of public health research at NORC, said in a news release.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine annual influenza vaccination for all persons aged 6 months or older who do not have contraindications. The CDC estimates that flu vaccination coverage among adults was 37% for the 2017-2018 season and 43% for the 2016-2017 season.
Last year’s flu season was particularly severe, with a record-breaking 900,000 hospitalizations and more than 80,000 deaths in the United States. Although most flu deaths were in adults older than 65, the flu also killed 180 children and teenagers.
Many survey respondents did not know this. About two thirds (63%) incorrectly believed that last year’s season was about the same as usual, was less severe than usual, or they did not know. People who had already received their flu shot for this season were more aware of the severity of last year’s flu season; 43% of people who had already been vaccinated correctly identified last year’s season as being more severe than usual, compared to only 30% of people who do not plan to get vaccinated.
“Flu vaccination helps prevent people from getting sick with the flu and reduces the severity of illness for those who do get sick. Widespread vaccination also helps create ‘herd immunity’ that protects vulnerable groups who are prevented from getting vaccinated,” Caroline Pearson, BA, senior fellow at NORC, said in news release. “Unfortunately, over half of all adults are currently unvaccinated, with four in 10 not intending to get vaccinated, placing themselves and those around them at risk.”