WASHINGTON — More than half of the many Americans with a relative who is at high risk of danger from getting the flu say they're worried about the vaccine shortage, according to an Associated Press poll about the crisis that has health officials scrambling for solutions and politicians blaming each other.
The U.S. flu vaccine shortage became public two weeks ago when British regulators cited contamination problems in closing one of the two companies that make vaccine for the U.S. market. That nearly cut in half the 100 million doses U.S. officials were expecting.
Healthy Americans were urged to forgo shots so there would be enough for those at highest risk from influenza — children from 6 months to 23 months, the elderly, the chronically ill, pregnant women, certain health-care workers and a few other groups. And the flu vaccine crisis has spilled into the presidential campaign.
More than four in 10 Americans, 42 percent, say they or someone in their family are at high risk from the flu, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs. In that high-risk group, 54 percent said they're worried about being able to get the shot.
"This worries me for my father because he's 84, and he had a stroke," said Oliver Guzman, a garage door installer from Blue Island, Ill. "We've been trying to find out where we can get them," he said, referring to the vaccine. "Flu season is coming up, and we're trying to get him a shot to keep him healthy."
Each year, 200,000 Americans are hospitalized with the flu and 36,000 die. Federal authorities have asked healthy adults to refrain from getting vaccinated to leave enough for those at greatest risk: the very young, the very old and people with chronic illnesses.
"This vaccine shortage really bothers me because I have a 3-year-old grandson with epilepsy and cerebral palsy," said Judy Carter, 51, of Assumption, Ill., near Springfield. "I'm really worried about him. The 3-year-old goes to school, he's around other kids."
A third of all Americans say they're worried that someone in their family who needs a flu shot will not be able to get one. Women and people over the age of 50 were most likely to say they are worried.
The number doubles when people are asked if they are generally concerned about the shortage.
For Democrat John Kerry, this is another example of Bush's incompetence: first the war in Iraq, now flu shots at home. For Bush, the blame goes to runaway verdicts — highlighting his push to limit lawsuits. The president argues that more manufacturers would be in the vaccine business if they didn't have to worry about being sued by people who suffer adverse reactions to inoculations.
Bush told Florida voters Tuesday that he knows they are worried. And administration health officials announced this week that an additional 2.6 million doses of vaccine will soon be available.
It is not yet clear whether Americans are in the mood to blame any individual for the shortage. Recent polling indicates a majority of people do not hold the president responsible. "I'm not sure who's to blame," said Matt Gomes, 23, of Agawam, Mass. "There are probably many people who dropped the ball."
The poll found just over a third either plan to get the flu vaccine this year or have already gotten it. Almost three in 10, 28 percent, say they plan to get the vaccine, and 7 percent say they have already gotten the vaccine this year.
About four in 10, or 42 percent, say they got the flu vaccine last season.
More than half of those over age 50 got the flu vaccine last season and three-fourths of those 65 and over.
While a substantial number of Americans say they're worried about it, a majority say it's not much of a concern.
"I don't see why people are getting upset about it," said Pat Johns, a 69-year-old retiree from Clarkston, Mich., who is healthy and doesn't plan to get a vaccine this season. "There are too many other things to worry about. I think part of the reason that they do is that they watch too much TV."
The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults was conducted Oct. 18-20 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.