October 07, 2021
3 min read
Although nearly 70% of U.S. adults said last year’s mild influenza season will not impact their decision to get a vaccine this year, many indicated they would continue pandemic-related precautions through the season, a survey found.
This includes more than half who said they plan to wear masks in certain situations, according to survey data released by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).
“We were all relieved that there was historically low flu activity during the 2020-2021 flu season. Mask wearing and social distancing along with school closures and reduced travel likely contributed,” Infectious Disease News Editorial Board Member William Schaffner, MD, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said during the annual influenza and pneumococcal news conference co-hosted by the NFID and the CDC.
“But as I always say, flu is unpredictable and for the upcoming season we anticipate seeing flu activity once again with relaxed COVID-19 prevention measures,” Schaffner said.
Influenza activity was so mild last season that the CDC was unable to estimate the effectiveness of seasonal vaccines. The rate of laboratory-confirmed hospitalizations due to influenza was the lowest since at least 2005, when such data were first collected.
To help better understand the beliefs, attitudes and practices surrounding influenza vaccination, the NFID surveyed more than 1,100 U.S. adults aged 18 years or older from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Overall, 61% of respondents said they believed vaccination is the best protection against influenza, although 44% said they were either unsure or did not plan to get vaccinated during the 2021-2022 influenza season.
The top reasons cited for not getting vaccinated were not believing influenza vaccines work (39%), concern over adverse effects from the vaccine (25%) and concern about getting influenza from the vaccine (19%), which does not occur. An additional 36% cited never getting influenza as their reason.
The NFID survey also revealed that 68% of U.S. adults said the mild influenza season last year which many experts attribute to pandemic mitigation measures will not impact their likelihood of getting a vaccine during this year’s influenza season.
The pandemic appears to have driven changes in preventive behaviors. According to the survey, although only 28% of respondents said the pandemic makes them more likely to get vaccinated against influenza, 54% of respondents plan to wear a mask and 45% said the pandemic will make them more likely to stay home if they are sick.
“That’s good news but it does not change the fact that the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to get the vaccine,” Schaffner said. “Folks, flu vaccines work.”
Rochelle P. Walensky
CDC estimates show that influenza vaccination coverage has increased over the past decade, including between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons. According to data presented at the news conference by CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, however, coverage among children aged 6 months to 17 years decreased 4.1 percentage points from 62.3% to 58.2% during the 2020-2021 influenza season.
“This is concerning because flu can be especially dangerous to children,” she said. “I hope we can reverse the drop in vaccination coverage we saw among children.”
Walensky said vaccine coverage was between 50% and 55% among adults and that although CDC data showed that coverage increased overall, rates decreased among specific populations. The data showed that white people had higher influenza vaccine coverage at 56%, compared with Black (46%) and Hispanic (45%) people.
“I get it — we are all tired of talking about vaccines. I get it — we are all doing our best to protect our health and the health of our families,” Walensky said. “I just want to make sure we all get it, [relate] just how serious influenza illness can be and get how important a flu vaccine is to protect us this season. I hope you will get it and join me in getting vaccinated against the flu.”
CDC. 2020-21 Flu Season Summary FAQ. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2020-2021.htm#anchor_1627000392551. Accessed on Oct. 7, 2021.