Only about half of American parents took their kids to get flu shots this season, with many believing it is less important or less effective than other vaccines, a new poll found.
“In exploring why some parents do not have their child get the flu vaccine, we found that many parents do not believe that flu vaccine is as safe, effective or important as the other vaccines their children receive,” said Sarah Clark, associate director of the poll.
Annual flu shots are recommended for children aged 6 months to 18 years. But only 52 percent of the parents polled said their child received a flu shot this season, according to the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.
Fifty-nine percent of parents whose child did not receive the flu vaccine said the shot is less important than other childhood vaccines, compared with 14 percent of parents whose child got a flu shot, the findings showed.
Among parents whose child did not receive a flu shot this season, 48 percent said the flu vaccine is not as effective as other vaccines. Many also had concerns about its safety — 21 percent thought it underwent less testing and 23 percent believed it had more side effects than other vaccines, according to the poll.
“Despite substantial public health efforts, flu vaccine rates for U.S. children are well below national targets,” Clark, an associate research scientist at the University of Michigan, said in a university news release.
“The flu vaccine is unlike other recommended childhood vaccines in ways that can be confusing to parents,” she explained.
“For example, parents generally expect that vaccines will prevent their child from getting a disease. But getting a flu shot for your child does not guarantee he or she won’t get the flu, though generally, vaccinated children will have a less severe case,” Clark said.
“This is a complicated concept that is different than the way we explain the effectiveness of other childhood vaccines,” she added. “This may lead parents to wrongly believe that the flu vaccine doesn’t work.”
Each year, about 20,000 children under the age of 5 years are hospitalized in the United States due to flu complications that can cause death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The poll also found that 32 percent of parents who did not have their child vaccinated against the flu this season said their child’s doctor does not recommend flu vaccination as strongly as other vaccines, compared with 9 percent of parents whose children did get flu shots.
“Health care providers can play an important role in addressing parents’ negative beliefs about flu vaccine. To do so, they should fully explain and strongly recommend an annual flu vaccine for all children,” Clark said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about children and flu shots.