An article in last month’s New England Journal of Medicine provides a good summary of the public’s perception of the H1N1 response in an article called The Public’s Response to the 2009 H1N1 Influenza Pandemic. It’s a comprehensive review of data from 20 national public opinion polls conducted between April 2009 and January 2010. Early in the pandemic (when no vaccine was available) two thirds of Americans (59 to 67%) said that they routinely washed their hands or clean them with sanitizer more frequently; and a majority (55%) had made preparations to stay at home if they or a family member got sick.
Most people (87%) believed that the vaccine was safe (it was), but 50% of those surveyed said they weren’t concerned that they would get sick with H1N1 in the next 12 months and 28% of people thought that they weren’t at risk for getting a serious case of H1N1 infection. A similar percentage thought that they could get medication (antivirals) to treat it (26%), citing that as a reason to not get vaccinated.
By early November, 17% of adults had already tried to get vaccinated, but 70% couldn’t find a shot. Only 21% of high-priority adults tried to get the vaccine, 33% found a shot in November and only 7% of high-priority adults were actually vaccinated in November. Parents were more motivated to vaccinate their kids than themselves and 40% of parents had had one or more of their children vaccinated by mid-January.
January 2010, 59% believed that public health officials did an excellent or good job in their overall response to the pandemic, whereas 39% believed they did a fair or poor job. The main reason for reporting that public health did a poor job was disappointment that the vaccine wasn’t available earlier.