Anti-Vax Survey Shows Quarter of Parents in U.S Are Unsure About Flu Vaccines

A quarter of U.S. parents are hesitant about getting their child vaccinated against the flu, a study has revealed.

The paper published in the journal Pediatrics also showed only just over a quarter (26%) of parents surveyed strongly agreed that the flu vaccine is effective, with 70 percent holding this view about routine childhood vaccines. Six percent of participants were hesitant about routine childhood inoculations, while one in eight were worried about the safety of both routine childhood and flu vaccines.

Hesitancy was defined in the study as "a motivational state of being conflicted about or opposed to getting vaccinated."

A total of 2,052 parents with children aged 6 months to 18-years-old in the U.S. took part in the nationally representative online survey, conducted in February 2019. When the team assessed the results according to the demographics of the parents, they found those who had a bachelor's degree or lower, and a household income 400 percent below the federal poverty level were more likely to be hesitant about both routine and flu vaccines.

In parents who showed hesitancy, 67 percent had deferred or refused a routine vaccine for their child, versus 8 percent of those who were not. A similar pattern was found in flu vaccines specifically, with 70 percent of hesitant parents having put off or refused a flu shot versus 10 percent of those who weren't.

The team wrote: "Whereas hesitancy about routine childhood vaccination is driven primarily by safety concerns, hesitancy about influenza vaccination is largely driven by concerns about low vaccine effectiveness.

"Concerns about the safety of routine childhood and influenza vaccinations were almost identical."

The limitations of the study included its reliance on the honesty of the participants, the team said.

The study comes amid concerns about vaccine hesitancy, which the World Health Organization (WHO) named as one of the 10 biggest threats to global health in 2019. The WHO said a 30 percent rise in measles is partly attributable to this trend. In the U.S., 1,282 cases of measles were confirmed in 2019, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up from 375 the previous year and marking the highest number reported in the country since 1992.

The CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and above gets the flu vaccine, except in rare cases where people have certain conditions. But in the 2018 to 2019 flu season, only 57.9 percent of children got it, according to data cited by the authors.

Lead author Dr. Allison Kempe, professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who also practices at Children's Hospital Colorado, said in a statement: "That means in any given year more than 40 percent of children are not vaccinated against influenza."

According to the CDC, flu vaccines reduce the risk of having the disease by between 40 to 60 percent, and have a variety of benefits including reducing hospitalisations and severe cases, saving children's lives, and protecting the vulnerable.

"We have already seen outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and mumps," said Kempe. "Low vaccination rates among children for influenza vaccine makes influenza seasons more severe for all portions of the population, since children are a major conduit of the disease to vulnerable parts of the population such as the elderly."

Kempe said conversations about vaccines should begin before a baby is born. "Ideally, we'd like to immunize parents against all the misinformation that is out there," she said.

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A stock image shows a boy being vaccinated. Getty