More vaccine but fewer takers, H1N1 surveys indicate

By David Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 23, 2009; A03

Pandemic influenza vaccine is getting much easier to find but more than half of American adults say they still don't want it, and one-third of parents say they don't want their children to get it either, according to two surveys.

As of this week, 111 million doses of vaccine against the pandemic strain of H1N1 flu have been released to states and cities. Not all of it has been used. There have been no unusual or unexpected vaccine side effects reported.

As of Dec. 12, 11 states reported "widespread" flu activity (as measured by office visits, hospitalizations and other indicators), down from 14 the week before. During the last two weeks of October, in comparison, 48 states reported widespread activity.

Speaking to reporters, Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, urged people to get vaccinated even though the flu outbreak is waning in many places.

"There are a lot of unknowns, but the one thing we do know is that getting vaccinated will reduce the chance of you getting sick, and reduce the chance of the country going through a third wave" of H1N1 spread, she said.

A survey done a week ago by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that 38 percent of children and 22 percent of adults who are pregnant, chronically ill or caring for young infants had gotten the vaccine. Both groups are in the "high priority" category established by the CDC.

About 44 percent of high-priority adults, and 55 percent of all adults, said they did not intend to get the vaccine. About 35 percent of parents said they would not get it for their children. About 60 percent of parents cited the vaccine's safety as their main concern.

Among high-priority adults, 38 percent mentioned safety as the reason they would pass on flu shots, with the belief they were not at risk or that the infection was less serious than anticipated as the main reason.

People who wanted the vaccine, however, were having an easier time finding it. In a survey taken at the start of November, only one-third of parents seeking vaccine for a child found it. In mid-December, three-quarters of parents who sought vaccine found it. As of last week, slightly more than half of adults seeking vaccination got it.

A CDC survey done in the second week of December found that about 46 million people had received the pandemic vaccine. About 40 percent were children -- a much higher percentage than in usual flu seasons, when the primary target is elderly people.

Children younger than 10 need two doses of vaccine, and only 2 million had gotten a second dose, the survey found. Schuchat said "we do think there are a lot of children in need of second doses in the weeks ahead."

The CDC found that the fraction of adults who say they want to be vaccinated has fallen slightly from early in the fall -- 60 percent to about 50 percent.

Vaccine is widely available in pharmacies and some large chain stores. Because the federal government owns all of the vaccine, private practitioners, clinics and businesses are not allowed to sell it, although they can charge to administer it.

"More and more vaccine has become available, and people will be seeing it really everywhere they go, I hope," Schuchat said.

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