"People have concerns about vaccination ... despite the clear message from
all of us in public health and doctors throughout the health care field that
vaccine is our best tool to protect against the flu," CDC director Thomas
Frieden, MD, said at a news conference aimed at convincing U.S. residents to
get their H1N1 swine flu vaccine.
That is going to be a tough sell. A Harvard University poll taken in late
September showed that 41% of Americans say they definitely will not get the
vaccine for themselves or for their children. And another 17% either don't know
what they'll do or say they might not get the vaccine.
How can that be, when doctors, nurses, scientists, and public officials are
virtually unanimous in urging people to get the vaccine -- for free or at low
Vaccination is an emotional issue, says Emory University researcher Saad B.
Omer, MBBS, PhD, MPH, who has intensively studied the phenomenon of vaccine
"We are a passionate people," Omer tells WebMD. "People feel strongly about
certain things. I don't think people realize that vaccines are science-based
products, and any criticism of and anything in favor of them should be based on
science -- and that often doesn't happen."
The worst thing clinicians can do, Omer says, is to dismiss people's
concerns. What are those concerns? According to polls and expert opinion, there
are five major fears.
Fear No. 1: Getting Swine Flu From H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine
Family doctors hear it all the time -- it's the No. 1 fear of flu vaccines,
says Ted Epperly, MD, president of the American Academy of Family
"The public has a large fear that somehow flu vaccine gives people the flu,"
Epperly tells WebMD. "They have this fear they will get the disease this
vaccine is aimed at preventing."
We've all heard this. Many of us have experienced it firsthand. Flu season
comes, so you get your flu shot. A day or two later, you come down with "the
flu." It had to be the flu shot, right?
Scientists know that just because two events happen in sequence doesn't mean
one caused the other. But that isn't how it feels when it happens to you.
All the same, flu is caused by a virus -- and there's no virus in the flu
shot. As for the FluMist nasal spray vaccine,
there is a live virus, but it can't cause full-blown flu.
"There is no scientific evidence for -- absolutely no truth -- to the urban
myth that vaccine will give you the flu," Epperly says.
So why do so many people report getting the flu after a flu shot? The answer
is that the flu isn't the only flu-like illness going around during flu season.
In fact, influenza accounts for less than a third of flu-like illnesses during
flu season. We just tend to call them all "the flu."
But since people who are vaccinated don't get the real flu, they actually
suffer less flu-like illness than people who don't get their flu shot or
"Some people ask, how do you know that what they perceive is not true?" Omer
says. "But we do know flu vaccine doesn't cause flu because the better
comparison is to look at what happens to people who get the vaccine vs. those
who don't -- and there are far fewer flu-like illnesses among the