Flu shot interest low: poll

Canadians aren’t clamouring en masse for swine flu vaccine, a new poll suggests.

TORONTO — Canadians aren’t clamouring en masse for swine flu vaccine, a new poll suggests.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll also indicates some parents have concerns about allowing their children to have a vaccine that contains an adjuvant, a compound that boosts the impact of the vaccine and allows smaller doses to be used.

Only about 45 per cent of respondents intend to get pandemic vaccine when the shots become available later in the fall, the poll found. An equal percentage said they would not take the pandemic shot.

“I think the data show that there is an ambivalence in Canadians about the vaccine,” said Dr. Kumanan Wilson, a scientist at the Ottawa Health Research Institute who has done a lot of research on the anti-vaccination movement.

“I think that public health officials need to be concerned about that. Simply having the vaccine isn’t going to be enough to have a successful program.”

Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s chief public health officer, could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday on the survey.

The findings are based on telephone interviews conducted between Aug. 20 and Aug. 23. Just over 1,000 Canadians were surveyed, giving the poll a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The figure showing how many Canadians plan to get the pandemic vaccine is higher than for the seasonal flu shot. Last year, for instance, just under a third of Canadians were vaccinated against seasonal flu, according to Statistics Canada.

But it’s lower than the 60 per cent that the Public Health Agency of Canada estimated would want vaccine based on polling it did earlier in the outbreak.

With seasonal flu vaccine, uptake is highest among seniors and lowest among healthy adults. And the poll showed a similar breakdown when it came to the intentions of various age groups, with 56 per cent of adults 18-34 saying they don’t intend to get the shot or shots. (The pandemic vaccine may require two doses to protect.)

But this flu virus seems to preferentially attack the young and spare older adults. The poll results suggest that if healthy adults are targeted for the Canadian vaccination programs, efforts are going to be needed to get them to come forward.

“I think it’s going to be a tough sell,” Wilson said of the vaccination program in general.

“And I don’t think . . . they want to be particularly coercive about this. They’re going to have to pick their battles. They’re going to have to identify again what are their most important populations to target.”

Modelling studies suggest that targeting children and the adults around them would reduce dramatically the spread of flu viruses.

But while 56 per cent of parents who were surveyed said they planned to get their children under 18 years old vaccinated, 30 per cent said they would not. And when the question turned to the use of boosting chemicals known as adjuvants, reluctance rose.

When respondents were asked if they’d allow their children to be vaccinated with vaccine containing an adjuvant, described as a compound that boosts the impact of the vaccine but which hasn’t been licensed in previous flu vaccines in Canada, the percentage of parents willing to have their children vaccinated dropped to 35 per cent.

Canadian government officials have indicated they intend to use vaccine with adjuvant, as long as no safety concerns arise.

“If they can’t get a good enough uptake among school-aged children that’s going to undermine any vaccination program. Because that’s the key population, I think,” Wilson said.