Fall is here, meaning the days of cooler weather, changing leaves, and pumpkin spice lattes are ahead. But with the new season also comes the seasonal flu, which this year coincides with the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
As COVID-19 continues to ravage the country, with more than 200,000 American lives claimed by the novel virus, health experts are urging the public to receive a flu vaccine in an effort to prevent hospital systems from becoming inundated with both coronavirus and flu patients.
But the results of a survey commissioned by the National Foundation for Infectious Disease (NFID) and conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, which were provided to Fox News in advance of its release on Thursday, found that while most participants agreed the vaccine is the best protection against flu, a smaller percentage actually plan to be inoculated.
In a survey of 1,000 adults ages 18 or older from across the country, 68% agreed that receiving the flu vaccine is the “best preventive measure against flu-related deaths and hospitalizations,” up from 61% the year before.
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But by comparison, only 59% of respondents said they actually plan to be vaccinated against the flu, with 15% saying they are unsure. For context, 52% of respondents in 2019 said they planned to receive the flu vaccine that year.
For those who are unsure, some 34% said they do not think flu vaccines work well — a significant decrease from 2019, with 51% of respondents reporting the same— while 32% said that they “never get the flu.” Another 29% said they are concerned about potential side effects of the vaccine, while some 22% said they are concerned about getting the flu from the vaccine (important to note: reactions to the flu shot may include a low-grade fever or muscle aches, but the vaccine cannot cause the flu virus.) Additionally, some 17% of respondents said they are unsure about getting the flu shot because they are “concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19 if they go out to get vaccinated.”
Concerningly, nearly one in four respondents — about 22% — who are considered high-risk for flu-related complications (high-risk groups include those 65 years of age or older, smokers, as well as those with diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or kidney disease) do not plan on getting the flu vaccine this year.
Nearly 60% of White respondents plan to receive the vaccine, while 65% of Hispanics said the same. But some 64% of Black respondents said they do not plan to get the flu shot or are unsure if they will.
As for flu season coinciding with COVID-19, the majority of adults surveyed said they were more concerned about contracting the coronavirus than the flu, with 46% saying they are “very or extremely worried about COVID-19 infection (for themselves or someone in their family).” Only 23% reported the same for the flu.
“Another 46% are worried about being infected with COVID-19 and flu at the same time,” per the survey, with Black respondents being the most concerned about this, at 61%, compared to 53% of Hispanics and 39% of White adults.
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Overall, 28% said the pandemic made them more likely to get vaccinated against the flu this year.
As for taking antiviral medications to mitigate flu symptoms, “an overwhelming majority” said they would do so, per the survey, with 77% of respondents saying they would.
Interestingly, Black adults surveyed were more likely to say they would not take flu antivirals (39%) compared to White and Hispanics (22% and 17%, respectively.)
Respondents were also asked about their knowledge surrounding the pneumococcal disease, “which is caused by bacteria and can cause various types of illness, including pneumonia, meningitis, ear and sinus infections, and sepsis,” per the survey.
An estimated 46% said they were not familiar with the disease, which was unchanged from 2019, while 51% said they have “not been advised to get vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.”
Some 65% of respondents said they were unsure of their pneumococcal vaccination status or said they have not received it, while 89% of those who have not been vaccinated against it said they were either unsure or do not plan to get the vaccine. Some 28% of those who said they did not plan to receive the pneumococcal vaccine or were unsure if they would reported concerns about possible side effects from the vaccine, while 15% said they were concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19 if they were to leave their home to get vaccinated.
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“These survey findings highlight the importance of addressing misconceptions about flu and pneumococcal vaccine safety and effectiveness especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” NFID officials said in the survey, noting that “unlike COVID-19, there are currently safe, effective vaccines available in the US to help prevent flu and pneumococcal disease.
“Now more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic, flu vaccination is critical not only to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community (especially those who are most vulnerable like children, adults age 65+, and individuals with certain chronic health conditions) but also to reduce potential strain on the US healthcare system,” they continued. “Even in cases when flu vaccination does not prevent infection completely, it can reduce the severity and duration of illness and prevent serious complications.
“The survey findings underscore the need to address health disparities and educate populations at increased risk, including older adults and individuals with chronic health conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes who are at higher risk for complications from both flu and COVID-19,” they concluded.