The 2017-2018 flu season killed at least 185 children, a record death toll since the Centers for Disease Control started tracking them in 2004. About 80 percent of those children who died had not been given the flu vaccine.
But in a new national poll from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan, one in three parents say they will skip getting the flu vaccine for their child this season.
The hospital asked 1,977 parents if they planned on getting their child the shot, and about what they had heard from their doctors about getting the shot.
“Two thirds of parents said their child would get flu vaccine this year, while 34 percent said their child was unlikely to do so. Most parents indicated their child’s health care provider strongly (51 percent) or mostly (26 percent) recommends flu vaccine; 21 percent did not recall the provider making a recommendation, while 2 percent said the provider recommended against flu vaccine,” the hospital’s report on the survey says.
Doctors generally recommend the flu shot for every person older than 6 months, except for those with health problems or who may be allergic to the vaccine. The CDC said a record-breaking 155.3 million doses of the vaccine were distributed in the previous flu season. But in general over the years, the CDC says the flu vaccination rate has stagnated or dropped in most states.
So why are people opting out of the shot this year? One reason may be an “echo chamber” that surrounds different people with entirely different views, the researchers say.
“Parents who decided to get flu vaccine for their child reported hearing or seeing information about flu vaccine that is largely in favor of flu vaccine – in fact, these parents reported four times as many information sources that prompted them to want to get their child vaccinated. The opposite was true for parents who decided that their child will not get flu vaccine: they reported seven times as many information sources that made them question or not want to have their child vaccinated,” the report says.
This seems to have a measurable effect. For example, 87 percent of people who said they make health decisions based on what their child’s doctor tells them said they would get the shot. That number dropped to 56 percent for people who said they mostly made decisions “based on what they read or hear.”
The researchers say parents may have “selective hearing” when looking at information about the flu shot, and only pay attention to things that already support their beliefs.
“To me, the biggest takeaway is that there is a group of parents who look like they have a gap in expert guidance around whether kids should get flu vaccines, specifically whether their kid should get flu vaccine,” said Sarah Clark, the co-director of the poll, CNN reported
She said the top reasons for parents choosing not to get their kids the vaccine was concern about side effects, that they thought it didn’t work or that their child was healthy enough not to need the shot, according to the network.
The researchers say the results hold a lesson for doctors: Many parents don’t rely solely on them for medical advice, and accurate information about the shot needs to be distributed by some other means in “language parents can understand.”
But what parents say they will do and what they end up doing aren’t always the same: About half parents said in a 2016 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital survey that they had vaccinated their child.