Study shows unhealthy scepticism about flu shot
Suggests a "very individually-focused understanding"
A study from the University of Waterloo says many Ontarians are skeptical of the flu shot.
The study is based on Ontario health data from 2013-14, and was recently published in the Journal of Health Communication.
It shows that half of people who avoid the flu shot, do so because they believe it's not important or it's not effective —and most don't get the flu shot at all.
"Right now we know in Ontario, roughly 34 per cent of the population get the flu shot," Samantha Meyer, an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo's school of public health and health systems told Craig Norris on the Morning Edition. "Ontario is the only province where we've seen a decrease in rates of flu shots since 2003."
Apathy and misinformation common
The study points to what Meyer has called a "very individually focused understanding" among Ontarians about the need for the flu shot.
Meanwhile, avoiding the flu shot may put others at risk.
"Especially people who are elderly, pregnant or are too young to get the vaccine," says Meyer.
Her research suggests that while some avoid flu shots for moral or religious reasons, others likely don't feel the personal risks are great enough to warrant getting one.
"For many people you get the flu, you're out for a couple of weeks, and then you're back in action," says Meyer. "And because of that personal experience, people think 'if I get [the flu], that's fine.'"
The study also points to a lack of public confidence in the shot, Meyer says, partly caused by misinformation about its safety and efficacy.
"It's important that you become informed, that you do your own research, but you need to make sure that that information is accurate," says Meyer. "Talk to your healthcare providers, and even if you decide not to get the flu vaccine, it's still an informed decision."
The success of the flu shot also depends on whether the actual strain matches the strains predicted by scientists. In 2015, for instance, many people caught a strain they weren't vaccinated for.
"We don't know yet what kind of implications that's had," says Meyer. "We suspect that the lack of effectiveness in that year might have implications for how people see the flu vaccine and the importance of the vaccine."
Herd immunity still a long way off
The flu kills about 3,500 Canadians each year.
But public health workers hope "herd immunity" will one day help to decrease that number.
"Herd immunity means we have a high enough vaccination rate that it stops the spread of the infection, we don't see huge population effects," says Meyer.
In order to get there, she says, many more people need to be willing to get the shot.
"We'll need 80% of average risk people and 90% of the high risk population and health care professionals," she says. "So we're far, far from reaching that target."