ATLANTA — As the first wave of swine flu vaccine crosses the country, more than a third of parents don't want their kids vaccinated, according to an Associated Press-Gfk poll.
Some parents say they are concerned about side effects from the new vaccine — even though nothing serious has turned up in tests so far — while others say swine flu doesn't amount to any greater health threat than seasonal flu.
A Modesto physician said parents were turning down the nasal spray at his practice Wednesday.
"A lot of parents I offered it to didn't want it," said Dr. Scott Yang, a pediatrician with Valley Oak Pediatric Associates, which received a few hundred doses of nasal mist Tuesday.
"Most of them said they prefer to wait for the shot," Yang said. "A lot of folks have the misconception that the (spray) is too new, it wasn't researched enough and they feel it could make them sick."
Yang said he gave the vaccine to his wife, four children and himself, and all are doing fine. "I figure if I do it first, maybe I can get some takers," Yang said.
Jean Riley of Modesto said she wants to have her children vaccinated. Her 24-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter have asthma and she worries they could suffer complications if they catch the flu. She also has a 3-year-old daughter.
"I will take whatever they have to protect my kids," Riley said. "I have heard that people have fears about the vaccine, but I would rather be safe than sorry."
Jackie Shea of Newtown, Conn., the mother of a 5-year-old boy named Emmett, says the vaccine is too new and too untested.
"I will not be first in line in October to get him vaccinated," she said. "We're talking about putting an unknown into him. I can't do that."
The AP poll found that 38 percent of parents said they were unlikely to give permission for their kids to be vaccinated at school.
Monitoring for side effects
The belief that the new vaccine could be risky is one federal health officials have been fighting from the start, and they plan an unprecedented system of monitoring for side effects.
They note that swine flu vaccine is made the same way as seasonal flu vaccines that have been used for years. And no scary side effects have turned up in tests on volunteers, including children.
On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appealed for widespread inoculation against swine flu, vouching unconditionally for the vaccine: "We know it's safe and secure."
The AP poll, conducted Oct. 1-5, found 72 percent of those surveyed are worried about side effects, although more than half say that wouldn't stop them from getting the vaccine to protect their kids from the new flu.
It traditionally takes a while for parents to learn about and accept a new vaccine and years for immunization rates to grow, said Dr. Matthew Davis, a University of Michigan Medical School associate professor who has overseen polling on flu issues.
Children are the main spreaders of infectious disease, and if large numbers are coming down with swine flu, there are ripple effects for everyone else.
The AP poll found 59 percent are likely to let their kids be vaccinated. But the kind of concerns voiced by parents could put a dent in public health efforts.
A survey Davis directed in Michigan suggested one reason for rejecting the vaccine is that about half of parents said they did not consider swine flu any worse than the seasonal bug.
"Basically, the swine flu is the flu. I'm not overly excited about it," said Julie Uehlein, a Tullahoma, Tenn., mother who is against swine flu vaccinations for her 8-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. "My concerns about the vaccine are what are the long-term effects."
Some, like Shea, recall the 1976 flu immunization campaign that vaccinated 40 million Americans against an epidemic that never materialized.
Worse, many who got the shots back then filed injury claims blaming health problems on the vaccine, with some reporting a paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Health officials did not find evidence the vaccine caused the condition. Many people were unjustifiably blaming all sorts of health problems on the vaccine, some health experts believe.
That's why the government already is trying to educate people about how common many health problems are, and why it's handing out cards telling people how to report any side effects.
The H1N1 virus has caused at least 9,000 U.S. hospitalizations and at least 600 deaths, including 60 children.
Bee staff Ken Carlson contributed to this report.