Americans are getting seasonal flu shots at about the same rate as last year despite heightened awareness of the risks of influenza inspired by the swine flu pandemic, a survey released on Wednesday showed.
As of the middle of November, about 32 percent of all U.S. adults and 37 percent of adults who are recommended to get a flu shot against seasonal flu had gotten one.
"It does not appear that the increased public discussion of the role of influenza vaccines has had a significantly impact on the public's behavior," said Katherine Harris, a senior economist at RAND, a nonprofit research group that led the study.
"Most of the results from our latest survey look much like those from last year," she said in a statement.
Harris said concerns over the swine flu pandemic did drive more adults to get seasonal flu vaccines earlier this year, with about three times as many adults getting a seasonal flu shot in September compared with the same time last year.
But overall vaccine rates through mid-November were comparable with rates during the same period last year, suggesting that vaccination rates have tapered off.
This may have been due in part to a shortage of seasonal flu vaccines that occurred as companies struggled to meet government commitments to deliver H1N1 vaccines.
But the study also suggests misperceptions about flu vaccine are common, Harris said.
Overall, 60 percent of people who do not plan to get a flu shot said they were worried they would become sick, worried about vaccine side-effects or thought they did not need a flu shot.
Harris said the study did not suggest that people were skipping their seasonal flu shot because they had already gotten or planned to get an H1N1 flu shot.
Flu Season Picking Up
Seasonal flu shots protect against flu viruses circulating each year. Seasonal flu kills about 36,000 people in the United States each year and puts 200,000 in the hospital, typically hitting the elderly and those with underlying health conditions hardest.
While swine flu has begun to ease in the United States, flu season is just picking up, Dr. William Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University and president-elect of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told reporters at a media briefing.
Schaffner stressed that the seasonal flu shots are safe. "You cannot get influenza from the influenza vaccine," he said.
The findings come from a nationally representative survey of more than 5,000 adults that asked about their vaccination status and related issues through mid-November. The survey was paid for by GlaxoSmithKline, which supplies flu vaccine to the U.S. market.
Healthcare workers were the group most likely to have been vaccinated by mid-November, with about half saying they had been vaccinated by then, according to the survey. But 40 percent of healthcare workers reported they had no intention of getting a seasonal flu shot.
"This is despite the risk that being unvaccinated poses to healthcare workers' patients and to healthcare workers themselves," Harris said at the briefing.
Caregivers and others who have close contact with people for whom flu poses a serious health risk were least likely to be vaccinated overall, with just over a third reporting they were vaccinated by mid-November.
The survey also found that white adults were more likely to be vaccinated than other racial groups, and Hispanic adults were the least likely to have received a seasonal flu vaccine.