NEW YORK — Last winter's flu season was fairly typical of other winters over the last decade, with the prevalence of the flu and the number of people who had flu shots both fairly close to the averages for that time period, the Harris Poll reported Tuesday. The effectiveness of flu vaccines also seems to have been fairly typical.
According to a poll of 2,300 adults surveyed online between April 16 and 21, 2014, 44% of all adults report that they had flu shots. This compares with 40%, 39%, 44%, 40% and 44% over the five previous winters. And as many as 13% of adults believe that they had the flu last winter, compared to 18%, 12%, 11%, 11% and 14% over the five previous winters.
As in most of the Harris Polls on this topic over the last ten years, the numbers of people who believe they had the flu was almost the same for people who had flu shots (12%) and those who did not (13%). However, it would be a mistake to conclude from this that the vaccine was ineffective. There is clear evidence in this poll that people who were more vulnerable were also more likely to have received shots.
For example, efforts to vaccinate the elderly, who are more vulnerable to flu, seem to have been quite effective. Fully 76% of people aged 65 and over were vaccinated, and only 7% of seniors report that they had the flu. People aged 25 to 29 years were the least likely (16%) to be have had flu shots, and they were the most likely (19%) to believe that they had the flu.
Almost half of all adults (47%) think they will get flu shots next winter. This includes the great majority (92%) of people who had one last winter and only a few (10%) of those who did not.
"The diagnosis, and particularly self-diagnosis, of the flu is not very reliable, as other infections can produce flu-like symptoms," noted Harris Poll chairman Humphrey Taylor. "This raises the question of whether some people who report having had the flu may have been mistaken." This year's survey finds that about three quarters of these people are "certain" they had the flu (74%) and two thirds spent one or more days in bed (66%). However, only 47% visited a doctor who diagnosed the flu.