Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

Safety first

toddler.jpgI got a phone call tonight from the US Centers for Disease Control, asking if I was planning to vaccinate myself and my child against pandemic H1N1 ‘swine’ flu.

The woman on the line said that the agency was conducting the survey to find out more about attitudes towards vaccination, trying to find the demographic of people reluctant to vaccinate.

I could point them to one demographic: one of my local online parents’ groups. “Don’t get your kids vaccinated!” warned one poster. “The risks outweigh the risks of the illness.” She said, citing unnamed ‘sources’ at NIH.

Apparently that mom is not alone in her safety concerns. A recent poll from Consumer Reports finds that just 35 percent of parents were sure they would get their children vaccinated, while 14 percent of parents would ‘definitely’ not. Even more disturbingly, a separate survey found that only 38 percent of health care workers were planning to get vaccinated. You can read more about the polls at the Los Angeles Times blog “booster shots.”

With the first swine flu shots coming on deck next week, the CDC does not have a lot of time to figure out how to get safety messages out to the public. Its website does a decent job, but it might be appropriate to link to a web page with a more detailed message outlining results of clinical trials with flu vaccines and explaining exactly how the vaccine is made. Or perhaps the agency has consciously chosen to go with a simple message.

My feeling is the agency might be facing some powerful anti-vaccine sentiment in the this country. I hope that the agency is ready with smart, detailed and to the point explanations. My phone call last night indicates they are at least thinking about how to craft their public health message on vaccine safety.

You can see the CDC website here. What do you think? Does it do a good job of explaining why the agency expects the vaccine to be safe?

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