Why flu vaccine rates lag

December 10, 2008

That's according to a survey conducted by the Rand Corp. and released today by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

The report, sponsored by vaccine manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, surveyed influenza vaccination rates of approximately 4,000 American adults and found that the main reason 54 percent of Americans don't get vaccinated is their belief that they do not need it. Another reason cited is their disbelief that the flu is serious enough to cause adverse effects, according to the survey.

Dr. William Schaffner, president elect of the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases, said motivating people to get a flu shot this year will depend on health care providers explaining the importance of the vaccine and recommending the flu shot to patients.

"People are not aware that even if they have a mild case [of the flu], they are the vehicle of transmission to others," said Schaffner.

While previous surveys have been conducted at the end of the October through February flu season, this is the first interim survey designed to measure vaccination use among U.S. adults. And, according to the CDC, the findings may be consistent with previous annual end-of-season reports.

Using the survey, the Rand Corp. predicted that no region in the United States would be on track to the necessary vaccination rates to prevent the flu this season.

"That is wimpy across the board," Schaffner said.

According to Dr. Litjen Tan, director of infectious diseases and immunology at the American Medical Association, 50 million to 60 million people are expected to get the flu this season. Influenza costs the government around $10 billion a year, he said.

"The consequence to not get immunized is a choice to suffer influenza and the public health and economic consequence of the disease, and infecting those you love," said Tan.

While, according to the survey, nearly 30 percent of people have already been immunized this flu season, some have found alternative and even additional ways to protect themselves from the virus, which kills an estimated 36,000 Americans every year.

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