Nearly four in 10 parents do not plan to have their children get the swine flu vaccine this year, with doubts about its safety overwhelmingly cited as the chief reason, underscoring safety concerns as potentially a major impediment to vaccination efforts.
Other results in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll buttress the point: Three in 10 adults are not confident the vaccine is safe (including one in three parents), and 22 percent believe it's "very" safe. These attitudes heavily influence intentions to get vaccinated, with views of the vaccine's safety a stronger factor than the perceived risk of getting the flu itself.
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Even though concern about catching the flu has risen sharply since August, only 35 percent of adults plan to get vaccinated (including 2 percent who say they've already done so); 62 percent say they probably will not get vaccinated. More parents, 56 percent, intend to have their children vaccinated (including 4 percent who say they've done so), but even among parents, 39 percent say they probably won't.
WHY NOT? – This poll asked those parents, open-endedly, why they don't plan to have their children vaccinated, a robust approach because it doesn't prompt for predetermined answers. Far surpassing other mentions, 53 percent in this group raised safety concerns, citing worry about side effects or doubts whether the vaccine's been sufficiently tested.
Far behind that reason, 18 percent of parents who intend not to have their children vaccinated said they're not worried about the flu or don't believe getting the vaccine is worth the trouble; 15 percent said they don't believe the illness is serious enough; 3 percent were unsure about the vaccine's availability; and 1 percent were unsure about its cost. The rest gave scattered other answers.
The outcome's similar when comparing views of the vaccine's safety with the intention to get vaccinated. Among parents who are very or somewhat confident the vaccine is safe, 72 percent plan to get their children vaccinated. By contrast, among those who suspect it may not be safe -- again, one in every three parents -- only 13 percent plan to get vaccinations for their kids.
Safety concerns likewise influence personal intentions. Among people who are very confident about the vaccine's safety, 60 percent plan to get it themselves. Among those who are "somewhat" confident, this drops to 40 percent. Among those less confident than that, a mere 6 percent plan to get vaccinated against the swine flu.
Worry about getting the flu, naturally, pushes intention to get vaccinated in the other direction -- up -- but less strongly. In a statistical model testing these relationships, concern over vaccine safety and concern about getting the flu both independently predict intention to get vaccinated, but concern over vaccine safety does so with nearly twice the predictive power.
These results suggest that encouraging vaccinations depends not merely on warning people about getting the flu but as much on persuading doubters that the vaccine is safe.