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Survey Probes Unpopularity Of Flu Vaccine In Rural Virginia

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Virginia residents weren't concerned with disproven studies about the effects of vaccines, as some had believed.
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Virginia residents weren't concerned with disproven studies about the effects of vaccines, as some had believed.

Flu season hit our nation especially hard this year. While health officials recommended anyone over the age of six months be vaccinated, many took a pass. A new report from Virginia Tech sheds some light on why parents might choose to ignore this medical advice.

In 2009, the nation was in the grip of an H1N1 pandemic. Knowing that some families couldn't afford a trip to the doctor, Virginia's rural Cumberland Plateau Health District set up clinics in two public schools to give free or low-cost innoculations. It was easy and cheap, but 78 percent of students did not participate and officials wanted to know why.

After surveying about 80 percent of families and conducting follow-up interviews with a few, the Tech team concluded parents were not concerned about the safety of the vaccine or largely discredited studies linking vaccination to autism.

"In the interviews we had families with children with development delay who made no such connection at all, which is where you would expect to find it," says Professor Bernice Hausman.

There was, however, some discomfort with having children vaccinated by the health department in a public place like their school. Some parents said their kids had gotten flu shots at the doctor's office. Others were proud of their family's good health and believed that getting sick and recovering would actually make the kids stronger.

"What we found were people saying things like getting the flu and getting over the flu is better for your immune system than getting the vaccine," Hausman says. "So maybe the public health community has to talk more about how vaccines work with your immune system."

Researchers conclude that different populations in the U.S. have different reasons for opting out of vaccination programs, and if the nation wants to address the problem of pockets where vaccines are unpopular, it will have to work at the local level to find out why each community feels the way it does, and to craft local solutions.

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