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Poll on H1N1 suggests that public health officials battling perception problem

A recent poll suggesting that many Arizonans don’t plan to get vaccinated against the H1N1 flu strain reflects a misconception that could leave many people at risk, a state health official said Oct. 30.

“Most people don’t understand that the virus is very dangerous,” said Dr. Karen Lewis, medical director of the Arizona Department of Health Services Immunization Program.

A Cronkite/Eight Poll released Oct. 28 found that 54 percent of those surveyed said they wouldn’t get the vaccine against the so-called swine flu when it becomes widely available. Bruce Merrill, a retired Arizona State University professor who oversees the poll, said the main reasons given involved fears about the vaccine’s safety.

“They had some concerns over the safety of it because it was rushed into production and not adequately tested,” Merrill said in a phone interview.

Abbigail Tumpey, the vaccine safety communications coordinator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said in a phone interview that those concerns are unfounded.

“We’re definitely not rushing this process,” Tumpey said. “In fact, because we’ve done extensive clinical trials and manufacturers have done their own testing as well. We’ve actually done more to test its safety than for regular flu vaccines in the past couple years.”

Tumpey said that the public is misinformed about the dangers of the vaccine, which officials say are minimal.

“People look at this like, ‘If I don’t get the vaccine, I forgo all risks,'” she said. “In actuality, people who don’t get this vaccine are at risk … for getting H1N1.”

She added that there is no scientific data to support the idea that the H1N1 vaccine is less safe than the regular one.

CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said he empathizes with those who are skeptical.

“I think we’re fully aware that the public has concerns about the safety of the vaccine,” Skinner said. “And that’s understandable when there’s this much misinformation about the safety of the vaccine out there.”

Lewis said state health officials are trying to put the public’s fears to rest by talking to educators, the media and the general public about how vaccines work and what the risks really are.

“You just give your information to the people and let them make their best decision,” she said.

One comment

  1. Yes, you bet the people are skeptical. Remember when they got us all hopped up about avian flu? Wow, that epidemic killed… uh, absolutely nobody. And the last time swine flu came around — in the Jerry Ford administration — it turns out that more people actually died of the government-contracted vaccine than of the flu itself. Oh, but this vaccine will be “tested,” and that can’t happen. Like they didn’t promise that last time (I was there). Reminds me of the latest “I’m a PC” ad: “We won’t have the same failures as before — trust me!”

    The people have figured out, as Mencken wrote, that “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” Or, as Groucho Marx distilled it, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and then applying the wrong remedies.”

    And if that means that the occasional real danger is dismissed, the people who enable the government who continually cries “Wolf!” have nobody to blame but themselves.

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