Majority of Americans get flu facts wrong, vastly underestimating death toll
LEAWOOD, Kan., Jan. 16, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- More than eight in 10 Americans incorrectly answered at least one in a series of questions about the flu, and nearly one in three missed all the questions, according to survey results released today.
The survey, commissioned by the American Academy of Family Physicians, investigated the impact of myths and misconceptions about the flu among adults ages 25-73. It also explored how those perceptions might contribute to a decline in vaccination rates. The results found certain groups, including millennials and African Americans, are more susceptible to anti-vaccination rhetoric and beliefs, while men are more likely to forego a flu shot—both for themselves and their children.
According to the survey, more than half (51%) of Americans haven't received a flu shot this season, and nearly a third (32%) of adults don't plan to get one. When provided with a series of facts about the flu, 82% of adults got at least one fact wrong, and 28% got all of them wrong.
"It is very alarming to see how people are being influenced by the anti-vax movement," said Alexa Mieses, M.D., a practicing family physician in Durham, North Carolina. "Whether they are young adults or African Americans, we need to make sure that these communities are educated about the importance of vaccines and that they understand the source of the rhetoric they're hearing. It's clear they are being influenced by myths and misinformation, and it's critical that the facts reach them too."
Millennials recognize value, but don't take action – Millennials, the nation's largest and most influential demographic group, are the least likely to get vaccinated with 55% reporting that they have not gotten a flu shot this season. Of those, 33% are not planning to get one. Anti-vaccination rhetoric may be contributing to their relatively low vaccination rates: more than 3 out of 5 millennials (61%) who are familiar with the anti-vaccination movement say they agree with some anti-vaccination beliefs. That's higher than the national rate among adults (52%) and significantly more than baby boomers (42%), showing a trend that younger adults may be more influenced by the anti-vaccination movement.
Mundane excuses for not getting a flu shot rise to the top of the list of reasons reported: 25% of millennials say they have foregone a flu shot because they didn't have the time compared to 12% of Generation X and 6% of baby boomers. Additionally, millennials are almost twice as likely to simply forget to get vaccinated compared to older generations. Beyond excuses, millennials are also the least informed about flu facts, with 86% of respondents getting at least one fact wrong and 31% getting all of them wrong. Still, socially conscious millennials are the most likely to believe in the efficacy of the flu shot with 76% saying it is effective and 83% agreeing that the flu shot helps protect those around them.
African Americans are also influenced by anti-vaccination beliefs – African Americans who are familiar with the anti-vaccination movement are most likely to self-report that they agree with anti-vaccination rhetoric (61% vs. 52% overall). However, they are the least familiar with the anti-vaccination movement, with only 45% reporting familiarity compared to 55% overall, 59% among Hispanic Americans and 53% among Asian Americans. In fact, Hispanic Americans are nearly twice as likely as other ethnic groups to say they are very familiar with the anti-vaccination movement.
This anti-vaccination influence may be causing a gap in knowledge about the flu for African Americans. When asked about flu facts, the vast majority (89%) got at least one fact wrong, and 36% got all of them wrong. Similar to millennials, African Americans have the lowest vaccination rate compared to other ethnic groups: 55% have not yet received a flu shot this season, and 34% don't plan to receive one.
On the other hand, Asian Americans seem to be the group most informed about and supportive of flu shots. Nearly nine in 10 (88%) agree that getting the flu shot helps protect those around them, surpassing the overall national percentage (79%) and that of fellow ethnic groups (76 and 77% of African Americans and Hispanic Americans, respectively). Asian Americans also have the highest vaccination rates with 78% having reported ever receiving a flu shot, compared to 69% of African Americans and 73% of Hispanic Americans. Asian Americans are also most likely to get their flu shot every year (56% compared to 48% of African Americans and 51% of Hispanic Americans). However, while Asian Americans are most likely to get vaccinated, those who do not are significantly more likely to think that they don't need it (38% compared to 29% of African Americans and 24% of Hispanic Americans), and are the least likely to discuss flu vaccines with their health care provider (23% compared to 31% of African Americans and 27% of Hispanic Americans).
Underestimating dangers of the flu – Parents and men both tend to fall victim to myths and misinformation that may affect how they prioritize flu vaccinations, not only risking the wellbeing of themselves and their families but also reducing the ability to protect the whole community from disease. Nearly 3 out of 5 parents (59%) indicated that their child has missed a flu shot at least once, often due to misinformation or misunderstandings: 21% of parents said they didn't want their children to get sick from the flu shot, 13% think they don't need it, and 10% don't actually think flu is that serious. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recorded 4,800 total flu-related deaths, including 32 pediatric deaths, during the 2019-2020 flu season. Last season, the CDC estimated 116 children died from the flu.
Men in particular underestimate the dangers of the flu, with 73% vastly underestimating the number of flu-related deaths in the U.S. last flu season. Men are also more likely than women to forego a flu shot for themselves and their child because they don't think the flu is that serious: 23% of men reported they have foregone a flu shot for themselves for that reason, compared to just 5% of women, and 19% of men have foregone a flu shot for their child for that same reason compared to only 2% of women.
"Parents are responsible for their children's health and safety so it's imperative that they understand the dangers of the flu," said Dr. Mieses. "It's concerning to see that parents are misinformed, thinking the flu shot can give their children the flu or that they don't need it. Parents don't appear to be against immunizations though – they simply don't view the flu vaccine with equal importance as lifetime vaccines. We need to make sure they understand the seriousness of the flu so they can protect and immunize their children and themselves."
Every year, Dr. Mieses counsels patients on the importance of getting the flu vaccine and ways to stay healthy during flu season. Her top tips include:
- Get a flu shot – The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine every year. Alarmingly, fewer than half of survey respondents have gotten one this season. According to the CDC, all persons six months of age or older should get vaccinated, especially individuals with high risk including those aged 65 and older, children younger than 2 years old, and pregnant women.
- Ask your doctor about the facts and confirm what you may have heard or read online – Only 26% of respondents had discussed the flu with their health care provider, but if you have questions about the flu vaccine, talk to your doctor. This survey shows that there is a lot of misinformation out there and your doctor will be able to help break down where the information is coming from and what are the facts.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle – A healthy immune system is the first line of defense for avoiding illness, so maintaining a well-rounded healthy lifestyle is important. Eating a well-balanced diet with fruits, vegetables and whole grains, getting a good night's sleep, exercising regularly, and managing stress levels are all key steps to proactively combating the flu.
Visit familydoctor.org for more information on preventing the flu and staying healthy.
The AAFP Flu Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research (www.wakefieldresearch.com) among 1,000 Nationally Representative US Adults Ages 25-73, and an oversample to increase the sample size to 500 for the following audiences: Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans, between November 27 and December 9, 2019, using an email invitation and an online survey. Quotas have been set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of US Adults Ages 25-73.
Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3.1 percentage points for US Adults Ages 25-73, and 4.4 percentage points for Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.
About the American Academy of Family Physicians
Founded in 1947, the American Academy of Family Physicians represents 134,600 physicians and medical students nationwide, and it is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.
Family physicians conduct approximately one in five of the total medical office visits in the United States per year – more than any other specialty. Family physicians provide comprehensive, evidence-based, and cost-effective care dedicated to improving the health of patients, families and communities. Family medicine's cornerstone is an ongoing and personal patient-physician relationship where the family physician serves as the hub of each patient's integrated care team. More Americans depend on family physicians than on any other medical specialty.
To learn more about the AAFP and family medicine, visit aafp.org/media. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, visit the AAFP's award-winning consumer website, visit familydoctor.org.
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SOURCE American Academy of Family Physicians