Poll: Half of Utahns don't intend to get H1N1 vaccine

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SALT LAKE CITY -- In spite of strong government encouragement, about half the people of Utah do not intend to get vaccinated for the H1N1 virus. That's a key finding of a new Dan Jones and Associates poll for KSL and the Deseret News, which shows a significant level of mistrust and -- in the eyes of experts -- misinformation.

Many people want the protection of flu shots, but just haven't been able to get it. About half the population, though, doesn't believe it's worth the trouble or the risk.

Short supplies of the vaccine have led to long lines. Health authorities say the situation should improve in coming days as more vaccine is shipped from manufacturers.

For most people, the H1N1 virus creates only mild flu symptoms. For some, however, it's deadly. Some health officials say it may be the fastest-spreading flu they've ever seen.

Dr. David Sundwall, the director of the Utah Department of Health says, "The spread is remarkably fast. I've never seen an 'epicurve' -- we call it -- epidemiology curve, so steep. In other words, it's spreading quickly."

Our poll asked Utahns if they had personally been diagnosed with the virus.

  • 3 percent said yes
  • 95 percent said no

When asked if they had close friends, family or co-workers who've been diagnosed with H1N1, however,

  • 44 percent said yes
  • 55 percent said no

Megan Montoya is a student at the University of Utah. "One of my best friends had the swine flu. It was pretty bad. He was out for a week," she says.

When asked if they had received the H1N1 vaccine,

  • 3 percent said yes
  • 97 percent said no

"People are dying from it. I just don't want to be down and sick," says Johnny Bruce of Salt Lake City.

According to the poll, less than half of Utahns intend to get the vaccine.

  • 42 percent said yes
  • 51 percent said no

"I got a flu shot last year and I got really sick," says Bruce Kraus of Salt Lake City.

That lack of enthusiasm is a big concern to Sundwall.

"There's a lot of people who I think are afraid because it's a new virus, it's a new vaccine," he says. "While I think their fears are misplaced, I understand and I respect their misgivings. Now, it's my opinion, however, that if this epidemic continues to increase and they have friends and loved ones who have the infection, they're going to change their mind."

Experts hope at least 60 percent will get the vaccine, a rate that might create so-called "herd immunity" which slows the epidemic and protects everybody.

"Yeah, I'd like it to be higher. I really do. I think the benefits of vaccine have been so clearly established that we would prefer to get to that rate," says Sundwall.

Skeptics give a wide array of reasons for not wanting the vaccine. Montoya says, "The swine flu is a mutated flu, and it's just going to mutate again."

Kraus agrees. "You know, there's all kinds of pharmaceutical stuff going on right now. You don't know who to trust," he says.

In spite of that suspicion of experts, more than half in our poll give the state health department a good or excellent rating for managing the crisis.

  • 11 percent gave the department an "excellent" rating
  • 40 percent gave the department a "good" rating
  • 25 percent gave the department a "fair" rating
  • 9 percent gave the department a "poor" rating

The department's director thinks Utahns will change their minds and get the shots if people they know get sick and -- in rare cases -- die.

"I think it's a gamble for people not to be vaccinated," says Sundwall.

In addition to the vaccine, health experts say the No. 1 thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to minimize the spread of germs. That includes frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes and avoiding hand contact.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com


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