Parents Reportedly Don't Take the Flu Seriously Enough—and it Could Be Hurting Their Children

Nearly 3 out of 5 parents said that their child has missed a flu shot at least once, due to misinformation.

Over the last decade, an average of 140,000 to 810,000 people have been hospitalized annually due to complications from the flu—and a whopping 12,000 to 61,000 people per year lost their lives to the infectious disease. And yet, despite those staggering statistics, people of all ages are still not taking the flu seriously enough—and it's putting their health (and the health of their families) at risk.

That information comes from a new national survey conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians. The survey, published Thursday (right smack-dab in the middle of flu season) polled 1,000 nationally-representative US adults ages 25-73 to determine the impact flu myths and misconceptions have on vaccination rates.

According to the survey, parents often fall victim to these flu myths, which can then affect how they prioritize vaccinations. A huge number of parents—nearly 3 out of 5, or 59%—said that their child has missed a flu shot at least once, due to misinformation or a misunderstanding (21% said they didn't want their child to get sick, 13% said their child doesn't need the flu shot, and 10% said they don't think the flu is that serious).

Men, it seems, also greatly underestimate the dangers associated with the flu: Per the survey, 73% vastly underestimated the number of flu-related deaths last year (FYI: The CDC says there were 34,200 flu-related deaths during the 2018-2019 season.) Men are also reportedly more likely skip a flu shot themselves—along with one for their child—because they don't believe the flu is that serious.

Beth Oller, MD, a family physician in Kansas, believes that the false medical information flying around—including myths like "you can get the flu from the flu shot"—are due largely to the fact that patients aren't talking to their doctors. "It's causing a major gap in knowledge," she tells Health.

But there's another factor in the misinformation out there: anti-vaccination movements. Certain groups—including millennials and African Americans—appear to be most susceptible to anti-vaccination rhetoric. Both groups, per the survey, were the least-likely population to get vaccinated, with 55% of millennials and African Americans reporting they've not gotten the flu shot this year; and of those, 33% of millennials and 34% of African Americans are not planning on getting one.

These rates, according to researchers, may have to do with anti-vaccination influence, as more than 61% of millennials familiar with the anti-vaccination movement said that they agree with some anti-vaccination beliefs (that's higher than the national rate among adults, 52%, and baby boomers, 42%). African Americans were also likelier to agree with some anti-vaccination beliefs (61% again, of those familiar with the movement), though they are also the least familiar with the anti-vaccination movement.

“The anti-vaxx community has grown louder in recent years so patients are being influenced by that rhetoric,” says Dr. Oller. "Science has demonstrated that vaccines are effective and save lives, but people still believe the myths. They think that vaccines prevent children from building their own immunities or cause autism, but these claims have been proven false time and time again."

According to Dr. Oller, things need to change—and that starts with taking the flu just as seriously as it is, not just as a seasonal annoyance. "What people don’t understand is that every year thousands of adults, and many children die of the flu,” she says. “Even if the shot doesn’t completely cover every strain circulating, or even if you still get influenza, the chance of ending up hospitalized or dying decreases with vaccination.” Dr. Oller also makes sure her patients know that it isn't just very ill people who are hit hardest by the flu: "Healthy kids and young, healthy people in their 20s or 30 die too," she says.

Overall, Dr. Oller hopes that the findings of this survey encourages people to educate themselves about flu facts—everything from how vaccinations work and their effectiveness to studying the troubling statistics that prove just how serious the flu is.

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