National Survey Finds Low Interest in Influenza Vaccination

New survey finds little more than half of US adults are planning to obtain vaccination against influenza despite urging by health officials.

Just over half of US adults are planning to get vaccinated for influenza despite urging by health officials concerned with potential influenza resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).

The survey, conducted August 12-16, 2021, found that although 61% agree that flu vaccination is the best preventive measure against flu-related deaths and hospitalizations, 44% of US adults are either unsure or do not plan to get the vaccination. The NFID-sponsored survey was conducted by NORC, a social research institution at the University of Chicago.

In a news conference announcing the survey findings, Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emphasized the importance of the influenza vaccination.

"While we do not know what the activity will be like this fall, I urge everyone age 6 months and older to get vaccinated. If you are unsure about getting a flu vaccine, please take the time to get the information you need to make the right choice for your health and to get vaccinated," Walensky urged. "The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and the risk of both flu and COVID-19 circulating could put additional strain on hospitals and frontline healthcare professionals."

An NFID statement indicated that the survey was conducted to obtain a better understanding of the beliefs about flu and pneumococcal disease, as well as attitudes and practices around vaccination, and how these may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey included 1126 complete responses, with 1064 via the web and 62 via telephone, from US adults age 18 years and older representing all US states and the District of Columbia.

Among those not planning to get vaccinated, the most frequent reasons were: do not think vaccine works very well (39%); never get the flu (36%); concern about potential side effects (25%); don't think flu is serious illness (20%); concern about getting flu from vaccine (19%).

The prospect of low vaccination rates poses particular hazard to those at highest risk for flu-related complications, according to the health experts at the news conference.They noted that nearly 1 in 4 (23%) adults who are at high risk had indicated that they were not planning to get vaccinated this season, not only leaving them vulnerable, but increasing likelihood of transmission.

"Amid the ongoing pandemic, we remain extremely concerned about patients with chronic health conditions who are at higher risk for pneumococcal disease and complications from flu and COVID-19," indicated Cedric Rutland, MD, West Coast Lung, Newport Beach, CA.

Patricia Stinchfield, RN, MS, NFID president-elect highlighted the youngest, vulnerable population."Children age 6 years and younger are at higher risk of serious flu-related illness, and we need to ensure our children are protected before flu starts spreading in schools and communities. Flu vaccines can be life saving for children," she declared.

Laura Riley, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, NY, noted that the current 55% vaccination coverage of pregnant women was similar to the prior season."Nearly half of pregnant women and their infants remain unprotected against flu," Riley said. "All pregnant women should get a flu vaccine to protect themselves and their newborn babies from severe complications."

Other findings from the survey include:

  • 77% would be willing to take an antiviral medication if prescribed to reduce severe flu symptoms
  • Among respondents who had not received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, 63% won't, and 28% are not sure whether they will get a COVID-19 vaccine,
  • 51% are not familiar with pneumococcal disease, although about a third (32%) of those at higher risk report having been advised to receive pneumococcal vaccine.
  • 54% report they will wear a mask at least sometimes during the flu season.
  • Black adults (73%) and Hispanic adults (62%) are more likely than White adults (46%) to report they will wear a mask during flu season.

"Survey findings highlight the importance of raising awareness and addressing misconceptions about flu, pneumococal disease, and COVID-19 vaccines, and the importance of healthcare professionals strongly recommending vaccines for their patients," the NFID indicated in the press release.