Trump's Statements on Influenza Vaccines Raise Concerns in Healthcare Community

February 8, 2017
Carole Ellis

Although President Donald Trump’s previous skepticism on the flu vaccine was certainly not helpful in terms of encouraging individuals to be vaccinated, research indicates that celebrity commentary on a topic makes it more likely that the audience will recall the message and be motivated to react to it.

Back in 2015 before President Donald Trump had announced his intentions to run for the highest elected office in the country, he announced an intention of a different sort.

On Sirius XM’s “Opie and Anthony” show, he stated that he would not be getting a flu vaccination that year, using some fairly strong verbiage in the process.

Here is, in part, what Trump said in response to a query about whether or not he would be getting a flu shot himself in 2015:

“I’ve never had one… I don’t like the idea of injecting bad stuff into [my] body. I have friends that religiously get the flu shot and then they get the flu… I’ve seen a lot of reports that the last flu shot is virtually totally ineffective.” He went on to add, “I’ve passed on it, but that doesn’t mean [other] people should.”

At the time, Donald Trump’s opinion on flu vaccinations was seen as nothing more than the opinion of a celebrity. Now that he is President of the United States, however, his opinion carries more weight and it is this fact that has raised concerns across the country.

Thanks in large part to conflicting information—online and elsewhere—on the flu vaccine, each year there is a fairly significant portion of the population that chooses not to receive the influenza vaccine, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that almost all individuals over the age of 6 months receive the shot each year.

In 2015, NPR reported in its NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll that just under 40% of adults had chosen not to get vaccinated. When the surveyors followed up to ask why those respondents had chosen not to get the flu vaccine, nearly half (48%) responded that it was not necessary for them to be vaccinated, while about a third responded that they were either concerned about risks associated with the shot or that they feared the vaccination would cause them to contract influenza. In addition, about 1 in 10 said they did not bother to get vaccinated because they believed the vaccine was ineffective.

Although President Donald Trump’s previous skepticism on the flu vaccine was certainly not helpful in terms of encouraging individuals to be vaccinated, research indicates that celebrity commentary on a topic makes it more likely that the audience will recall the message and be motivated to react to it.

Now that Donald Trump is the President, these comments are getting far more airplay than before, with potentially devastating consequences.

People with flu can spread it to others [who are] up to about six feet away,” a CDC spokeswoman told Contagion®. She added that although “most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk… a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it, and then touching their own mouth or nose.” She added that healthy adults can often infect others beginning one day before they develop symptoms of the illness and up to a week after they become sick, even if they are asymptomatic. In addition, children can spread flu for even more than a week even if they are asymptomatic. Therefore, to control the spread of influenza, “CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible,” she concluded, adding that sometimes flu activity extends as late as May, although it “most commonly peaks in the United States between December and March.”

Given that this year’s dominant strain of the virus, influenza A (H3N2), is particularly virulent and deadly, the media’s resurrection of President Donald Trump’s old commentary on the topic of the vaccine could present a serious problem. At this point in time, the season has likely not reached its peak although it is likely nearing it, according to the CDC’s “FluView,” a weekly influenza surveillance report issued by the CDC.

Since the CDC recommends ongoing vaccination as long as the virus is circulating, it is still recommending flu shots for protection from the illness. The White House has not commented on the president’s statements on the alleged “inefficacy” of the flu vaccine. Unfortunately, if old quotes circulated as new facts are used to drum up media fury and inadvertently influence a significant portion of the population to opt out of the flu shot, there is the possibility of seeing a flu pandemic in the future.

Younger generations, in particular, tend to be disproportionately more likely to be spurred to action by this type of statement and, by extension, be tempted to think that the issue is moot since they are generally more resistant to infection; even if this were true, if younger members of the population opt out of receiving the flu vaccine, it still places members of all ages at greater risk of contracting the virus because influenza spreads so easily.

The combination of these previous comments and reports on the possibility of a reported, “vaccine skeptic” being appointed to head an as-yet-to-be-created committee on “vaccination safety and scientific integrity,” the healthcare community is concerned about what the new administration will mean for the future of vaccines. President Donald Trump is only in the midst of his first 100 days in office and so, only time will tell what changes, if any, are in store for vaccines in this country.