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Posted: December 23, 2008

Why Are So Many Americans Passing Up Flu Shots?

A new survey of some 4,000 American adults reveals that less than a third of them have been vaccinated against the flu this season. Health officials looking at this number as representative of the nation as a whole say that number is way too low and want to know why.

"This information is extremely relevant and timely, considering influenza activity usually peaks in February and the complications can be devastating and even fatal," said Dr. William Schaffner, president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID). "This current rate of influenza vaccination is sadly too low, but there is still time to do better this season. It's a matter of both personal protection and public health."


From 1990-1999, the flu and its complications have caused approximately 36,000 deaths per year, on average. During the 1979-2001 period, it caused more than 200,000 hospitalizations per year. Most of the deaths occurred in people 65 years of age and older.


The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that influenza vaccination is the most effective method for preventing flu and its complications, which have the potential to be severe.


"Manufacturers are providing more influenza vaccine doses than ever before, however myths about influenza vaccination continue to be a main barrier to immunization," said Schaffner.


Key survey findings


Several common misperceptions about flu are cited as the reasons for not being vaccinated, including the belief that influenza immunization is unnecessary, lack of faith in influenza vaccines in general, and concerns that vaccination will cause sickness or adverse events.


Of the fraction of adults who still intend to be vaccinated this season (16.6%), the majority (41.1%) cited lack of time as the reason for the delay. From a geographical perspective, vaccination rates were comparable across all regions of the United States. Approximately one-third of white adults (32.3%) and one quarter of black and Hispanic adults (24.9% and 22.7%, respectively) have been vaccinated.


More than 50% of all adults who are living with chronic diseases have not received a flu shot.


Interestingly, only one-third of adults with asthma (32.8%) had been vaccinated, while approximately one-half of adults with diabetes (52.3%) and heart disease (52.3%), and nearly two-thirds of adults with chronic lung disease (62.9%) have already been vaccinated against the flu. While approximately one-third (29.5%) of healthcare workers or caregivers polled had been vaccinated, only 12.7% indicated that they plan to be.


Flu shot recommendations


The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends annual influenza vaccination for any adult who wants to reduce the risk for becoming ill with influenza or of transmitting it to others. Vaccination also is recommended for all adults in the following groups, because these persons are either at high risk for influenza complications, or are close contacts of persons at higher risk:


(Article courtesy of

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