Millennials are less likely to have had a flu shot this season and are more likely than other American adults to agree with some false anti-vaccination information, according to a new nationwide survey.
The results also showed that nearly one-third of adults polled don't plan to get a flu shot and many underestimate how deadly flu can be.
Power of anti-vax movement
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP)-commissioned survey of US adults aged 25 to 73 found that 51% haven't had a flu shot this season, and 32% don't plan to get one.
When asked a series of factual questions about the flu, 82% answered at least one wrong, and 28% got all of them wrong.
"It is very alarming to see how people are being influenced by the anti-vax movement," Dr Alexa Mieses, a family physician in Durham, North Carolina, said in an AAFP news release.
Millennials – the nation's largest demographic group, ages 24 to 39 – were least likely to have had a flu shot this season (55%), according to the survey. Of those, 33% don't plan to get one.
Misinformation about vaccinations may be a factor. About 61% of millennials who are familiar with the anti-vaccination movement said they agreed with some of its beliefs. That's more than the 52% rate for all adults and far higher than among baby boomers (42%).
Millennials were much more likely to say they don't have time to get vaccinated (25%) than Generation X (12%) and baby boomers (6%). Millennials were also nearly twice as likely as older generations to forget to get the shot.
Importance of vaccines
The survey also showed millennials are the least informed about flu facts, with 86% of them getting at least one question wrong and 31% getting all of them wrong.
In addition, the results showed that black Americans who are familiar with the anti-vaccination movement were most likely to say they agree with its beliefs (61%). But only 45% of black Americans said they were familiar with it, compared with 55% of adults overall; 53% of Asian Americans; and 59% of Hispanic Americans.
"Whether they are young adults or African Americans, we need to make sure that these communities are educated about the importance of vaccines and that they understand the source of the rhetoric they're hearing," Mieses said. "It's clear they are being influenced by myths and misinformation, and it's critical that the facts reach them, too."
Parents are also highly likely to be affected by misinformation, the survey showed.
Nearly three out of five parents surveyed said their child had missed a flu shot at least once, often due to vaccine misinformation or misunderstandings: 21% said they didn't want their child to get sick from the shot, 13% didn't think kids need it and 10% didn't consider flu serious.
This flu season, the United States has had 4,800 flu-related deaths so far, including 32 children, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last season, an estimated 116 children died from the flu.
Officials said last week that it's too soon to say whether this year's flu vaccine is effective against the strains that are circulating. But experts added that people still have time to get the shot.
"It's concerning to see that parents are misinformed, thinking the flu shot can give their children the flu or that they don't need it," Mieses said, adding that many simply don't consider a flu shot as important as other vaccines.
"We need to make sure they understand the seriousness of the flu so they can protect and immunize their children and themselves," she added.
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