Marketing Flu Vaccine: A Tough Sell For Many The nation is in the midst of the largest mass vaccination campaign against flu in history, but about half the population is saying they are not interested. Many have a sense the vaccine was rushed to production, compromising safety. Some are convinced it contains harmful chemicals.
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Marketing Flu Vaccine: A Tough Sell For Many

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Marketing Flu Vaccine: A Tough Sell For Many

Marketing Flu Vaccine: A Tough Sell For Many

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Today, a panel of independent experts met for the first time to go over data on side effects of the swine flu vaccine. They reviewed numbers for more than 10,000 people who've been vaccinated. And government officials said there were no danger signals. The panel is part of the government's effort to reassure Americans the new vaccine is safe. The government knows many people have concerns.

As NPR's Richard Knox reports, there are plenty of vaccine opponents out there to feed those doubts.

RICHARD KNOX: It doesn't take long to find stuff on the Internet slamming the new flu vaccine. Here's one I found from a blogger named David Icke.

Mr. DAVID ICKE (Blogger): If you do only one thing to protect you and your family, then do this: Don't have the vaccine. Don't have the vaccine. Tell as many people as you can: Don't have the vaccine.

KNOX: Icke thinks swine flu vaccine is a global conspiracy to depopulate the world. That's one of the more extreme views I found.

Dr. Howard Markel at the University of Michigan says vaccine opposition comes in many flavors.

Dr. HOWARD MARKEL (University of Michigan): The reasons are really all over the place. But there are enough people who are concerned about getting vaccine that we, as doctors and public health professionals, have to at least listen to those people and try to convince them otherwise.

KNOX: Markel studies flu pandemics. He says this one comes at a time when trust of authority is at a low point. It's also a time, of course, when anybody with an ax to grind can get an instant Internet audience.

Markel thinks government officials have been doing a pretty good job of selling the new flu vaccine. Peter Sandman disagrees. He specializes in communicating about risk, and he's a consultant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. PETER SANDMAN (Consultant, Centers for Disease Control): They've done an OK job talking to people about the virus. They've done a terrible job, in my judgment � or at least a pretty poor job, I'll give them a C-minus � in talking to people about the vaccine.

KNOX: Sandman says in their heart of hearts, public health officials see themselves as the good guys. And they believe so strongly in vaccines that it's hard for them to acknowledge many people's uneasiness.

Dr. SANDMAN: There's something deeply embedded in human psychology � something hard-wired � that makes us anxious about vaccination. There's something sort of intuitively weird about vaccination.

KNOX: It seems unnatural to many people to inject something that causes a disease in order to prevent it.

Dr. SANDMAN: When you get the sort of generic mistrust of government, combined with the intuitive mistrust of vaccination, that's a potent combination.

KNOX: Sandman advises the CDC to send a different message to skeptics. Something like this�

Dr. SANDMAN: We'd rather you got vaccinated now, or as soon as you can get some vaccine, as soon as the supply is there for you. But if you're skeptical, OK. We don't want to coerce you into rolling up your sleeves. We don't even want to pressure you into rolling up your sleeves.

KNOX: So, wait and see whether bad things happen to people who get vaccinated. See if the pandemic continues to get worse, and decide later whether to get the vaccine when more of it's around.

For now, the CDC is plowing ahead with its insistence that the vaccine is safe. It's also monitoring social media to keep track of the opposition.

Dr. KRISTINE SHEEDY (Centers for Disease Control): Well, you know, it's a really challenging communication environment that we all work in these days.

KNOX: That's Kristine Sheedy of the CDC. She's in charge of marketing the new H1N1 vaccine. About half of Americans aren't buying it, according to the CDC's polls and focus groups. That's partly due to a sense that the vaccine was rushed to production. Many are also convinced it contains harmful chemicals. That's not right, the CDC says.

Dr. SHEEDY: There's a lot of information out there that isn't all correct and can be, you know, frightening and does call into question the information that we at CDC and other public health officials put out about vaccines. And that's having influence.

KNOX: The CDC has been trying to counter the misinformation. But a shortage of the new vaccine has stalled the agency's big, $2 million media campaign until mid-December.

Richard Knox, NPR News.

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