Public may refuse pandemic vaccine over safety concerns

As the influenza A(H1N1) pandemic threatens to pick up speed as winter approaches in the northern hemisphere, pharmaceutical companies are racing to produce a vaccine against the novel ‘swine fluvirus. The first batches of vaccine could be used to protect vulnerable populations, and to ensure the pandemic does not compromise health care availability. But immunisation in communities is most effective when enough people are vaccinated to confer ‘herd immunity’ on the rest of the population. Members of the public who refuse the jab for themselves or their children could compromise this wider protective effect, the researchers say.

The researchers, Natalie Henrich of the University of British Columbia and Bev Holmes at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, conducted eleven focus groups in Vancouver before the onset of the current pandemic, and asked participants how willing they would be to accept a new vaccine in the event of a pandemic.

Parents known to favour ‘alternative medicine’ were particularly opposed to vaccination—but even healthcare workers would be reluctant to get vaccinated against an illness perceived as mild. “Participants were very concerned that in a pandemic, a vaccine would be brought to market without sufficient testing for safety,” write the researchers.

Many believed that instead, they could protect themselves against infection through personal control measures such as hand washing, social distancing, or even a good diet. While these measures are important, say Henrich and Holmes, they are not sufficient to prevent illness. This needs to be made clear to the public to ensure the vaccination campaign is successful, they stress.

It is particularly important to communicate with alternative health professionals about the benefits and risks of vaccination. “In the United States, for example, approximately 57% of the population use alternative therapies and 10% receive services from alternative health care providers,” write the authors. “The influence on their patients can mean the difference between whether or not herd immunity is achieved.”
A viral infection affecting the respiratory system. Full medical glossary
Invasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. Full medical glossary
A viral infection affecting the respiratory system. Full medical glossary
An outbreak of infection that affects numerous people in different countries. Full medical glossary
Relating to injury or concern. Full medical glossary
The means of producing immunity by stimulating the formation of antibodies. Full medical glossary
A microbe that is only able to multiply within living cells. Full medical glossary