As concern spreads about H1N1 flu, a new survey of California voters found that while most consider the vaccine safe, a majority had no plans to get vaccinated. The poll also found that blacks and Latinos are far more likely than other groups to say they believe the vaccine could be unsafe.
Only 5% of those surveyed said they already had been inoculated, a figure that remained consistent across income groups. Of the rest, 52% said they did not plan to get vaccinated. Among the 40% who said they wanted the vaccine, 12% said they already had attempted to find it but failed.
The decision not to get the vaccine, for the most part, did not appear driven by safety concerns. Overall, 70% of those polled said they think the vaccine is safe for most people; 17% said there was a "strong chance" the vaccine is unsafe. But among blacks, the percentage expressing concern about safety was twice as high, and among Latinos, 25% did so.
The findings come from a new Los Angeles Times/USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences poll. The survey, based on interviews of 1,500 registered voters from Oct. 27 through Nov. 3, was conducted for The Times and USC by two nationally prominent polling firms, the Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
Some responses -- particularly those of minority groups and young adults -- may be of concern to health officials.
Blacks and Latinos are among those most at risk from H1N1 flu, primarily because they suffer disproportionately from asthma, diabetes and other health problems. They are also four times more likely than whites to be hospitalized with H1N1 flu, also known as swine flu, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in August.
Yet blacks and Latinos in California were far more likely to doubt the safety of the vaccine. Blacks also were the least likely to have plans to get the vaccine.
"People are very skeptical," said Desiree Harris, 45, of Pasadena, an African American polled by The Times.
Harris, a Pentecostal minister who said she considers the vaccine safe, has not been vaccinated. But she has encouraged others at her church to get inoculated. She said federal officials have work to do to rebuild people's faith in their recommendations.
The Times/USC poll also found that people ages 18 to 29 had the highest percentage, 59%, saying they had no plans to get vaccinated. Public health officials have determined that people in their late teens through mid-20s belong to one of the five priority risk groups. Those risk groups are pregnant women, people ages 2 to 24, healthcare workers, caregivers of babies under 6 months old, and those ages 25 to 64 with chronic health conditions.
Cody Bannerman, 24, of San Francisco was among those who said he does not intend to get the vaccine. Bannerman, an unemployed financial analyst, said he considers the vaccine safe but getting vaccinated would be inconvenient.
"There's a lot of time you have to put into getting the vaccine, finding out where to get it and standing in line," Bannerman said. "If they had like a vaccination station in my neighborhood and you could just drop by, I might be more inclined to get it."
He said he does not know anyone who has had H1N1 flu, but every time a friend catches a cold they joke about having it.
"A lot of people my age have the mentality they're invincible and nothing can happen to them," he said.
Like Bannerman, many of those polled may not feel compelled to get vaccinated because they do not know anyone recently hit by the flu. Nearly 90% said neither they nor a member of their immediate family had contracted H1N1 flu during the last four weeks.
The Times/USC poll also found that people who identified themselves as conservative Republicans were nearly twice as likely as those who said they were liberal Democrats to say there was a strong chance the vaccine was unsafe.
Gary Goethe, 45, of Sacramento was among conservatives polled who consider the vaccine unsafe. But he still encouraged his two daughters, ages 14 and 23, to get vaccinated, because both suffer from asthma. "I think I better wait. I'm not really trusting right now of the government," Goethe said. "Even if they had enough supplies, I wouldn't want it."