Americans Split on Getting an Annual Flu Shot

Lauren Santye, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Monday, December 12th, 2016
Only about half of Americans plan to get a flu shot this year, a recent survey shows.

In the United States, opinions vary on whether or not to opt for a flu vaccination, mainly because of the fluctuation in the shot’s efficacy each season. However, this decision has ramifications that go beyond just keeping an individual healthy, according to investigator Glen Nowak, director of the University of Georgia Grady College’s Center for Health and Risk Communication.

“Your flu vaccination helps protect other people from flu, including both really young and older family members who are more vulnerable to severe illness,” Nowak said. “There’s evidence that the vaccine is often most effective in healthy adults 18 to 49, so by them being vaccinated they not only protect themselves from the flu, but they can help reduce the transmission of flu to others.”

Analyzing data from a new national survey, investigators found that, overall, approximately half of the respondents said they definitely or probably would not get the flu vaccine this year. 

As of October, the percentage of individuals aged 30 to 59 years who received a flu shot was less than 10%, and was only 5% for those aged 18 to 29 years.

Only 13% of survey participants aged 18 to 29 years said they planned to get a flu shot, followed by 18% of individuals aged 30 to 44 years who planned to get a shot, and 30% of those aged 45 to 49 years. There were only 2 out of 3 individuals over 60 years who were planning to, or had already, received the flu shot in October.

“One of the challenges with the flu vaccine is we’ve sort of plateaued in terms of the number of people who get the seasonal flu vaccine,” Nowak said. “That’s unfortunate because more people can clearly benefit from getting it. It’s not a perfect vaccine, but it’s the best protection you can have from influenza.”

The flu vaccine is 1 of 2 shots recommended for adults, with the other being a tetanus booster every 10 years. Although 75% of the 1000 people surveyed said they trusted the tetanus shot to be safe and effective, only around one-half indicated they trusted the flu vaccine.

Several factors influence an individual’s decision to get a flu shot, including a history of getting vaccinated in prior flu seasons, the researchers noted. According to the study, individuals who received a flu vaccination in prior years were most likely to get one this year.

The findings indicate the potential hope for higher adult vaccination rates in the future if more children grow up getting the vaccine, the investigators concluded.

“People most trust vaccines they’ve had experiences with,” Nowak said. “When people gain experience with a vaccine they often become more willing to follow the vaccination recommendation.”

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