Infectious Disease

Fewer than half of US adults plan to get flu vaccine despite warnings of a severe season

October 04, 2022

4 min read

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Disclosures:
Schaffner, Stinchfield and Walensky report no relevant financial disclosures.

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Following last year’s mild influenza season, US officials are emphasizing the importance of influenza, pneumococcal and COVID-19 vaccinations as they expect a much more severe season in the weeks to come.

“Flu isn’t just a bad cold. In fact, the words ‘just’ and ‘flu’ should never be in the same sentence,” National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) President Patricia (Patsy) A. Stinchfield, RN, MS, CPNP, said during the organization’s annual influenza and pneumococcal news conference. “Flu can cause mild to severe symptoms and life-threatening complications including hospitalization and death in children and adults and those with or without chronic conditions. The key message that you will hear today is the most important thing that each of you can do is to get your annual influenza vaccine get that flu vaccine.”

IDN1022NFID_Flu_Graphic_01_WEB

Data courtesy of NFID.

CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPHwho attended the news conference virtually, reflected on the last two influenza seasons, which she said had different timing and severity compared with typical influenza seasons before the COVID-19 pandemic in the US

“Last year’s flu season was relatively mild; however, there was more activity during the 2021-2022 flu season than during the prior season,” she said. “Influenza activity last season began to increase in November and remained elevated until mid-June, making it the latest season on record.”

According to Walensky, during the last influenza season, 51% of the US population aged 6 months and older received a vaccine, which is similar coverage to what has been observed in previous seasons and prior to the pandemic. However, she added, there was a drop in coverage among certain groups including pregnant women and children who are at higher risk of serious complications. Additionally, vaccine coverage for children aged 6 months to 17 years was 58%, a nearly 6 percentage point decrease from the 2019-2020 flu season and the lowest vaccination coverage observed in children in the last eight seasons.

Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH

“As we look toward the 2022-2023 flu season, even though we do not know what will happen exactly, we do expect for flu viruses to spread this fall in winter and we know that flu vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones against flu and its potentially serious complications,” Walensky said.

According to results from a survey by the NFID, only 49% of US adults plan to get an influenza vaccine during the 2022-2023 season. People who said they did not plan on getting vaccinated cited not thinking influenza vaccines work very well (41%), concerns about side effects (39%), never getting influenza (28%) and concerns about getting influenza from the vaccine (24% ) as their top reasons.

In addition to influenza data, the NFID survey also explored attitudes towards COVID-19 and pneumococcal disease. Survey data showed that only 32% of US adults are extremely/very confident about the safety of receiving influenza and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time.

Walensky said that influenza and COVID-19 vaccines can absolutely be given at the same time if the person is eligible — which she said most people are — and if the timing coincides. She added that people who got their vaccines at the same time were only slightly more likely to experience mild side effects in the day following vaccination including soreness at the injection site, headache and fatigue.

“COVID-19 has interfered with many of our routines including our routine immunizations,” she said. “However, we know that staying up to date on all recommended routine vaccinations remains critically important.”

Panelists at the conference added that influenza season is also a great time to make sure you are up to date on pneumococcal vaccination, as pneumococcal disease can be a serious complication of influenza. The experts said this is important to note as only 29% of adults aged 65 years and older said that they have been advised to get vaccinated against pneumococcal disease. They agreed that these data underline the importance of health care professionals talking to their patients about the safety of co-administration.

Additional data from the survey regarding influenza mitigation showed that the majority (69%) of adults understand that annual vaccination is the best preventive measure against influenza-related hospitalization and deaths. Also, similarly to what was shown in NFID’s survey last year, most US adults (58%) report that they will wear a mask at least sometimes during the influenza season: 40% if influenza and/or COVID-19 activity is high in their community, 35% in crowds and large groups of people, and 22% indoors.

William Schaffner, MD

These measures could help mitigate what Infectious Disease News Editorial Board Member William Schaffner, MD, says could be in store based on what has been observed so far in parts of the Southern hemisphere. According to Schaffner, influenza season in the Southern hemisphere is already well under way and has been proven to be severe. He said that Australia, for example, had its worst influenza season in 5 years.

“People have asked me how severe it will be. Don’t think about that. Just focus on the fact that flu will be with us,” Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and medical director for the NFID, said at the news conference. “So, perhaps a moderately severe influenza season is on the way, we’ll have to see, but prepare for the worst, while we hope for the best.”

Walensky said that while she cannot be sure what this influenza season will hold, she and other experts agree that the best way to protect yourself and those around you from influenza is to get your annual flu vaccine.

“I am here to strongly urge everyone who has not already been vaccinated to find the time and go get vaccinated,” she said.

Data from National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

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