Why are parents skipping swine flu vaccines?

Although kids have a higher risk of contracting H1N1, only 40 percent of moms and dad will get them the shot

Topics: Parenting, Broadsheet, Swine Flu, Health,

Despite the recent panic over swine flu and recommendations that schoolchildren be immunized, a new poll shows that parents are less likely to bother vaccinating their kids against the H1N1 virus than regular old seasonal flu — 40 percent versus 54 percent. Reports the L.A. Times, “Among those who said they do not intend to have their kids vaccinated against H1N1, almost half — 46% — indicated they’re not worried about their children becoming ill with the pandemic virus. Twenty percent said they do not believe the H1N1 flu is a serious disease.”

Huh? Swine flu, the illness we’ve all been hysterical about for months now, is not coming across as a serious disease? What’s up with that?

My first thought was that this might be related to the overall anti-vaccination trend promoted by the likes of Jenny McCarthy; not that parents are concerned about a flu shot causing autism, necessarily, but in a general climate of increasing fear about whether vaccinations might do more harm than good to individual children, it makes sense that people would be skeptical of a brand new one.

But as someone who might just be recovering from swine flu as I write, I wonder if the larger problem isn’t the awareness campaign itself. There has been so much information about H1N1 in the news recently, much of it conflicting — and most of it packaged with a “Be alarmed!” headline above “stay calm” advice — you can hardly blame anyone for getting confused or just tuning it out. (I’ve spent the last week Googling, trying to see if I have cause to be any more concerned than I would be if I were just hit with a nasty cold that gave way to bronchitis — which might actually be what happened, for all I know — and I’m still not sure if I should be or not.) It kills people, but not that many, really, and according to the CDC, “most people who have been sick have recovered without needing medical treatment.” You should be concerned if you’ve got it, but they aren’t testing for new cases anymore.  It’s risky for different groups than usual (the elderly and infants seem better off than the rest of us, for once), but at the same time, “About 70 percent of people who have been hospitalized with this 2009 H1N1 virus have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as placing people at ‘high risk’ of serious seasonal flu-related complications.” It’s ostensibly scarier than seasonal flu (which kills 36,000 Americans a year) but has all the same symptoms, and for the majority of us, the prescription’s the same as always: rest, fluids, over-the-counter remedies, whimpering until someone brings you soup. Some people are wearing surgical masks and bathing in Purell, while other people are having “swine flu parties” to get it over with before a worse strain comes along. So are we supposed to freak out here or not? I still have no idea, and I might have it.

What we do know, another L.A. Times article reports, is that, “In the U.S., half of the people with confirmed H1N1 cases have been 12 or younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Until July 24, when the CDC stopped counting new cases, 60% of patients whose ages were known were between 5 and 24 years old.” And two things we know for sure, regardless of any H1N1-specific facts, are that the flu sucks and schools are loaded with germs. So if I were a parent, I would probably be among the 40 percent planning to vaccinate my kid against swine flu. But at the same time — and I say this as someone who defended Amanda Peet for calling anti-vaxers “parasites” — given the lack of clear information available about the illness and the vaccine right now, I can understand why some parents are shrugging it off. 


Kate Harding is the co-author of "Lessons From the Fatosphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce With Your Body" and has been a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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