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AP-GfK poll: Parents like school swine flu shots

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[July 28, 2009]  WASHINGTON (AP) -- Most parents like the idea of vaccinating children against swine flu at school, but they're not so eager to roll up their own sleeves.

RestaurantParents do seem to be listening to warnings that this novel flu strain strikes the young more often than the old, an Associated Press-GfK poll suggests. Nearly two-thirds said they were likely to give permission for their children to be inoculated at school -- if the government's evolving plan to try that pans out -- and 40 percent said very likely.

However, even as the government races to get enough swine flu vaccine for Americans in time for fall's expected rebound of the virus, only a third of people say they're very likely to get vaccinated themselves once shots arrive.


"I don't think I am going to die from the swine flu," says Seattle truck driver Luis Gonzalez, 40, who adds that neither he, his wife nor their three children ever have had a flu shot or caught influenza.

He's far from alone. The AP-GfK poll shows 56 percent of Americans aren't worried that they or their family will catch swine flu.

The complacency doesn't surprise flu experts. While swine flu still is spreading around the country -- strange, since most influenza viruses can't hack summer's heat and humidity -- it has killed relatively few, 300, of the more than a million Americans estimated to have been sickened.

"We're in a lull now," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health's infectious diseases chief. "People really like vaccine when they see people getting sick. That's just human psychology."

It's another story for parents, perhaps rattled by last spring's swine flu-caused school closings.

"With kids at school, at a close proximity to each other, disease can spread quite easily," said Lance Griffin, 38, a Wichita, Kan., commodities broker and father of three. "Some people have died, obviously, from it. So if one of my kids were to (die) and I had the opportunity to get them vaccinated and I chose not to, I would feel very stupid. ... It's hard for a parent to live with that."

Get ready for a confusing fall: The regular winter flu is expected to make its usual rounds -- infecting up to one in five Americans and killing 36,000 -- at the same time swine flu spreads. But it will take two separate vaccinations to protect against both kinds.

"Don't forget the seasonal vaccine," pleaded Dr. Carol Baker of Baylor College of Medicine, who fumes that between 50 and 100 U.S. children die from regular influenza every year and "it seems the public doesn't care."

About 40 percent of Americans get an annual flu vaccine, and 30 percent of children do. The poll finds the population split on whether they or their children will go through that rite this fall.

Manufacturers aren't finished brewing and testing swine flu vaccine yet. On Wednesday, the government's top vaccine advisers meet to debate who's first in line once limited supplies start trickling out, a list expected to include school-age children, younger adults with flu-risky conditions like asthma, and health workers.

A solid minority -- a third of adults and just over one in four parents -- opposes swine flu vaccination.

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"Unless it is a mandate for school attendance, my children will not be (vaccinated) against any flu virus," said Rebecca Theismann, 38, a Rochester, Minn., special education teacher and mother of two. She views all flu vaccine as unnecessary except for the very young, elderly or people with weak immune systems.

Two-thirds of people are concerned the new vaccine might bring side effects. Regular flu vaccine is one of the world's safest inoculations and the swine flu shots are just a recipe change. But the last mass vaccination against swine flu, in 1976, was marred by reports of a rare paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome, so scientists will carefully watch for any sign of problems.

Yet side-effect fears don't predict who will shun swine flu vaccine. Complacency is the chief predictor.

William Aeschbacher, 55, a recreation center owner in Industry, Pa., said he decided the virus was "really, you know, nothing to worry about that much." He thinks the vaccine should be targeted to children- he wants it for a 5-year-old he's helping care for -- and said he'd consider it for himself only if it were very convenient: "It's just one of those things that I wouldn't go out of the way for."

In fact, the people most interested in swine flu vaccination are those who get inoculated every year. Four of every five who plan on a regular winter flu shot want the swine flu vaccine, too. So do two-thirds of those over 65, the age so far least likely to get swine flu but a population well-versed in influenza's dangers.

"It seems like a scary thing should that go through our country, and it seemed like it started very fast," said Darlene Woodard, 73, of Stockton, Calif., the sole caregiver for five grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She wants them and herself vaccinated as soon as it's available because "otherwise they might run out," Woodard said. "I need to stay healthy and stay well for these kids."

The AP-GfK poll was conducted July 16-20 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media, involving a random sample of 1,006 adults nationwide. The survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

[Associated Press; By LAURAN NEERGAARD]

Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington. AP Polling Director Trevor Tompson and AP Writer Christine Simmons contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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