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Times/USC poll finds majority of California's registered voters have no plans to get H1N1 vaccine

November 6, 2009 | 12:13 pm

Latpoll 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 believed the vaccine could be unsafe.

The findings come from a new Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California College of Letters, Arts & Sciences Poll. The survey, which interviewed 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 +/-2.6 percentage points.

Only 5% of those polled said they already had been inoculated. Of the rest, 52% said they did not plan to get vaccinated. Of the 40% who said they wanted the vaccine, 12% said they already had attempted to find it but failed.

Of those polled, 70% said they think the H1N1 vaccine is safe for most people, while only 17% said there was a strong chance the vaccine is unsafe.

The Times/USC poll findings regarding minorities and young adults, however, may be of particular concern to public health officials.
Blacks and Latinos are among those at risk of catching H1N1 flu, mostly 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 September.

Yet blacks and Latinos in California were more likely to doubt the safety of the vaccine, according to the Times poll: 34% of blacks and 25% of Latinos consider the vaccine unsafe, compared with 14% of whites and 16% of Asians.

Blacks were the least likely to get vaccinated: 65% said they had no plans to get inoculated, compared with 52% of whites, half of Latinos and 41% of Asians. “People are very skeptical,” said Desiree Harris, 45, of Pasadena, an African American polled by The Times.

A Pentecostal minister, Harris said she has not been vaccinated, but considers the vaccine safe, knows some people who have received it and has encouraged others at her church to get inoculated.

Harris, a conservative Democrat who voted for President Obama, said many Americans distrust federal authorities and must be reassured that they need the vaccine for their own safety.

“This current administration, they are having to rebuild our faith in the government,” Harris said. The Times/USC poll also found that 59% of people ages 18 to 29, among the most at-risk of any age group, said they had no plans to get the vaccine. People in their late teens through mid-20s are considered one of the five priority risk groups.

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 known anyone who has had H1N1 flu, but every time a friend catches a cold they joke about having it.

“They’re not actually concerned about it. I’m definitely not,” he said. “A lot of people my age have the mentality they’re invincible and nothing can happen to them.”

The Times/USC poll also found that people who identified themselves as conservative Republicans were nearly twice as likely than those who said they were liberal Democrats to say there was a strong chance that the vaccine was unsafe.

Overall, many polled may not feel compelled to get vaccinated because they do not know anyone recently stricken with the flu. Nearly 90% said neither they nor a member of their immediate family had contracted H1N1 flu during the past four weeks, while 10% said they did. Others may be wary of long lines at public vaccination clinics and waiting lists for private healthcare providers due to national vaccine shortages.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske