Oct 7, 2021 - Science

Public motivation for flu shot remains stale

A "potentially severe" flu season could be on the way the CDC warned this week, as public health officials once again urge the public to get its flu shot.

Why it matters: Americans may now have reduced immunity against the flu after cases reached an all-time low last year.

  • The 2020-21 flu season had very few flu cases mostly due to the mitigation measures put in place such as masking, capacity limits and social distancing.
  • The typical U.S. has about 12,000–52,000 deaths from influenza and 140,000–710,000 hospitalizations. Officials are worried the potential increase in flu infections and flu severity will crush the health care system.

Driving the news: The most commonly cited reason for participants to not get a vaccine continues to be disbelief in the shot's effectiveness at 39%, up from last year at 34%, according to a new survey out Thursday from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

  • 37% of adults are very or extremely worried about COVID-19, but only 19% are similarly concerned about flu.
  • Nearly 25% who are at higher risk for flu-related complications said they were not planning to get vaccinated this season.
  • 71% of adults age 65 years and older plan to get a flu vaccine compared with only 42% of adults 18–64 years old.

Between the lines: The symptoms of flu can often be similar to those with COVID-19, which can lead to additional needs for flu and COVID testing, and isolation for either of the diseases, especially in schools.

  • The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday it issued an Emergency Use Authorization for a test by PerkinElmer to detect COVID-19, several strains of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.

By the numbers: During the 2020-21 flu season, CDC estimates 52% of the overall U.S. population age 6 months and older got a flu vaccine, similar to coverage during the 2019-2020 season, per NFID.

  • Flu vaccination among adults rose to 50%, with coverage higher among older adults compared to younger adults.
  • Still, officials are worried about further racial disparities from both the flu and COVID. During the 2020-2021 flu season, white individuals had higher flu vaccination coverage at 56%, compared with Black individuals at 43%, Hispanics at 45% and other racial and ethnic groups at 52%.

What to watch: The CDC this week started collecting data for its full weekly influenza surveillance report, and start publishing online beginning on Oct. 15, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said this week at a White House COVID-19 Task Force briefing.

  • The NFID survey also found that 54% of U.S. adults plan to wear a mask in certain situations during flu season and 45% say the pandemic will make them more likely to stay home from work or school if they are sick.
  • “That’s good news, but it does not change the fact that the single most important thing you can do to help protect yourself and others is to get vaccinated," NFID medical director William Schaffner said in a statement.
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