Then, there are those who lie somewhere between the pro- and anti-vaccine camps—and who are justifiably worried about what to do this flu season.
Polls reflect the confusion. An Associated Press poll found that 72 percent of those surveyed were worried about possible side effects, although more than half said their concerns wouldn't stop them from getting the vaccine to protect their kids from the new flu. A separate Field poll conducted in California found that almost half of those polled—49 percent—were not concerned about swine flu at all, although 72 percent said they would get the vaccine if the government recommended it.
"There are a number of things driving ambivalence," says Dr. Sandra Crouse Quinn, a public health professor at the University of Pittsburgh who conducted a survey in June 2009 on attitudes about a new flu vaccine. She cites the cacophony of voices on both sides of the vaccine debate, but also places the swine flu epidemic in a larger setting.
First, the swine flu is a new disease—and with that comes an atmosphere of fear and anxiety. As new facts emerge, our understanding of the swine flu changes. "We know things today we didn't know in June," says Quinn, "And we'll know things months from now we don't know today."
Also, the new at-risk category for swine flu—healthy young people—is a group that doesn't typically get flu vaccines. And given the avian flu pandemic the US had been preparing for—a flu, it should be noted, that has a devastating 60% mortality rate—the H1N1 pandemic may appear deceptively mild in comparison.