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Intent to Get Flu Vaccine Doesn't Match Reality

538337 A CBS News Poll conducted in early October found just under half of Americans said they were likely to get vaccinated against the H1N1 flu, including only 28 percent who said they were very likely to do so. Other recent polls show similar results: for example, just 52 percent of respondents in an AP/GfK poll also conducted in early October said they were likely to be vaccinated.

In fact, those findings aren't much different than reaction to past flu outbreaks.

The last serious outbreak of the H1N1 virus in this country occurred in 1976. Then, the U.S. government undertook a public health campaign urging people to get the vaccine, and many millions of Americans did so. But questions arose about possible serious and potentially life-threatening side effects from the vaccine, and the vaccination program was cancelled in December.

538337 In August 1976, 53 percent of Americans interviewed in a Gallup poll said they planned to get the swine flu inoculation shots when they became available -- slightly higher, but not much different, than today. Seventeen percent said they would not get the vaccine, and 30 percent weren't sure.

CBSNews.com Special Report: H1N1

538337 Later in the year, a survey by the Roper Organization found a third of Americans saying they had gotten the flu vaccine already, and another 14 percent still planned to do so. Forty-seven percent said they hadn't gotten it, and didn't plan to.

In 1976, 13 percent of Americans who were not inoculated said they did not do so because they were skeptical about whether there would be an epidemic, and 12 percent said it was because they had concerns about the safety of the flu shot.

And some Americans who now say they are likely to get an H1N1 flu shot probably won't do so, if past polls are an indication. In February 1977, just 38 percent told the Harris Poll they had gotten the swine flu vaccine, fewer than the roughly half of the public who said they intended to.

In recent years, just about four in ten Americans consistently tell pollsters they received a seasonal flu shot in the past year.

For example, according to a 2006 Harvard School of Public Health/Robert Wood Johnson survey, 38 percent said they had received a flu shot or vaccine in the past year. In 2004, 42 percent told the Associated Press/IPSOS poll they were vaccinated against seasonal flu in 2003. The previous year, 35 percent said they had received a flu shot. In 2002, 36 percent of respondents to a Gallup poll said they had gotten a flu shot in the past twelve months.

Why don't more Americans get a flu shot? Most commonly, they don't think it is necessary. And a sizable minority thinks flu shots do more harm than good.

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Sarah Dutton is the CBS News director of surveys. Poll Positions is weekly Hotsheet feature on polling trends from the CBS News Survey and Polling Unit. Click here for more posts from the series.