At least one-third of parents say they likely won’t vaccinate their child against the flu, despite federal recommendations for the seasonal shot for children 6 months old and older, according to a hospital survey published Monday.
What’s more, 1-in-5 parents said health care workers didn’t provide a strong opinion on flu vaccination, according to a nationally representative poll conducted by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann-Arbor, Michigan.
“That is, really, a stunningly bad situation,” said Sarah Cook, co-director of the Mott Poll.
At least two children have died from flu-related complications in the 2018-19 flu season.
Last year, 180 children died from flu-related illness, one of the worst seasons on record. About 80 percent of those fatalities occurred in unvaccinated children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While influenza activity in the U.S. remains low, health officials have documented the strain of influenza A circulating since July, an inherently bad actor that typically leads to more serious and severe infections and complications.
Last year, an estimated 79,000 people died, with 960,000 hospitalizations and 49 million people with illness, according to the CDC.
The flu vaccine is recommended not only to prevent disease but also to lessen the severity of illness if flu is contracted and to create herd immunity, helping prevent disease with a critical number of people vaccinated. Last year’s vaccine was estimated to be only about 10 percent effective in preventing illness.
“I think that it’s difficult for a lot of people to understand how flu vaccine works, that yes, even people who are vaccinated can still get influenza but it’s likely their case will be much less serious,” Ms. Cook said. “It’s a hard concept.”
The Mott Poll, conducted in October, surveyed nearly 2,000 parents of a nationally representative sample on their attitudes and intentions towards flu vaccination.
The researchers identified at least two influential sources on parents, health care providers and public opinion.
About 48 percent of parents said they base their decisions off of their healthcare provider and of those, 87 percent said they are likely to vaccinate their child from the flu.
But in the public information realm, 38 percent of parents said they make their decisions based off of what they read and hear, with 56 percent of that cohort leaning toward no vaccination this flu season.
“I think a big thing is that in the healthcare world, we may think we’re doing a better job than we really are,” Ms. Cook said.
Among the parents who make their decisions based on what they read and hear, 45 percent take advice from family or close friends and 44 percent make their decision from talking with other parents. Online information influenced about 40 percent of respondents, while 32 percent said they look at parenting books or magazines.
Ms. Cook said the responsibility falls on the medical community to better explain and connect with parents about the importance of flu vaccination for children.
“I don’t think you can blame parents for being unaware of information they know nothing about it,” she said.
About 51 percent of respondents said their doctor “strongly” recommended the flu vaccine while 26 percent said health providers “mostly” recommended vaccination. Twenty-one percent said they don’t recall their doctor making a recommendation and two percent said the flu vaccine wasn’t advised at all.
Ms. Cook said this is a problem of messaging to families.
“I really think it’s up to the medical and public health communities to lead in figuring out what can be done here, what more can they do to make sure that we are reaching more parents with the information that explains how flu vaccine works and why it’s important for kids to get every year,” she said.