Some kids aren’t getting a flu shot because parents are listening to friends and family instead of medical professionals
Last week, a shocking poll was published by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital that showed that over a third of parents don’t plan on vaccinating their children ahead of this year’s flu season — despite the fact that of the 180 kids who died from the flu during the 2017 season, 80 percent hadn’t gotten their shot.
Further analysis shows that the reason for 34 percent of parents saying no to the lifesaving vaccine is more than a little depressing: moms and dads are listening to friends, family, and the internet instead of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. These parents live in an “echo chamber”of misinformation that could literally be deadly.
In the study, 1,977 parents were asked about their plans for the 2018 flu season. A startling 38 percent said they had no plans to get the shots for their kids. Forty percent said that they base their decision on what they see and hear — instead of what their child’s pediatrician recommends.
“Child health providers are a critical source of information to explain the rationale for annual flu vaccination and to address parents’ questions about flu vaccine safety and effectiveness,” says poll co-director Sarah Clark. “Without clear guidance from the provider, parents may be left with misinformation, such as the suggestion that flu vaccine causes the flu.”
Of those who took their doctor’s advice, almost 90 percent decided to get the flu vaccine. Those who looked at other sources were much less likely to do so.
“There appears to be an echo chamber around flu vaccine,” Clark says. “Parents who are not choosing flu vaccination for their child report hearing or reading opinions that question or oppose the vaccine. At the same time, parents who decided their child will get flu vaccine report opinions that largely support vaccination.”
Those in misinformation echo chambers hear common myths and misconceptions about the flu vaccine: that it doesn’t work, that it can cause the flu, or that it can cause other health issues. When they hear this misinformation from multiple sources (social media, their mom group, a blog they follow), it solidifies the idea that the flu shot is bad.
On top of all this, parents who already have a misconception or doubt about the shot may seek out other bad information to back up their worries.
Solving this issue will have to involve widespread education and awareness that can penetrate these dangerous echo chambers.
“It’s important to acknowledge that for some parents, child health providers are not the sole influence, or even the primary influence, on decisions about the flu vaccine,” Clark says. “For these families, we need to explore other mechanisms to convey accurate information and allow parents to hear a more balanced viewpoint.”
Another troubling aspect of the poll? One in five parents say that their doctor didn’t mention the flu vaccines — leaving parents to know about and schedule the shot on their own. These parents may stumble upon bad information as they ask less qualified people than their doctor.
Annual flu vaccines are recommended for all children over six months of age.