Public perceptions of the swine flu pandemic
The first cases of influenza A/H1N1 (swine flu) were confirmed in the UK on 27th April 2009, after a novel virus first identified in Mexico rapidly evolved into a pandemic. The swine flu outbreak was the first pandemic in more than 40 years and for many, their first encounter with a major influenza outbreak. We conducted fourteen focus groups around the time of the second wave of swine flu cases (October 2009) to examine public understandings of the pandemic and to explore how people deciphered the threat and perceived they could control the risks. Our focus group discussions showed that there was little evidence of people over-reacting, that people believed the threat of contracting swine flu was inevitable, and that they assessed their own self-efficacy for protecting against it to be low. Respondents also assessed a greater risk to their health from the vaccine than from the disease and were confused about the difference between seasonal influenza and swine flu. We suggested that these findings could lead to public apathy towards the UK Government's recommended health protective behaviours, and that had the vaccine programme been rolled out to the general population there could have been a sub-optimal level of vaccine uptake. These findings have been widely disseminated to policymakers and immunisation experts working to support future pandemic planning.
- Emily Smith