NFID President Patricia (Patsy) A. Stinchfield, RN, MS, CPNP, leads by example and receives an influenza (flu) vaccine in one arm and an updated COVID-19 vaccine in the other arm.
New NFID survey shows many US adults underestimate the seriousness of respiratory diseases and do not plan to get vaccinated this season
CDC Director Mandy K. Cohen, MD, MPH, to present final 2022-2023 US season coverage data showing fewer than half of US adults were vaccinated against flu, and fewer than 1 in 5 received bivalent COVID-19 vaccines
Bethesda, MD (September 28, 2023)—As the US braces for the upcoming fall and winter virus season, new survey data released today by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) show that despite the potential severity, only 22% of US adults are worried about themselves or someone in their family getting infected with influenza (flu), with similar low levels of concern about COVID-19 (23%) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) (19%) infection. The data also show that although nearly two-thirds of US adults (65%) agree that vaccination is the best preventive measure against flu-related hospitalizations and deaths, 43% of US adults do not plan to or are unsure if they will get vaccinated against flu. Although updated COVID-19 vaccines are recommended, only 40% plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and among adults age 60 years and older, only 40% plan to get vaccinated against RSV.
At a news conference today, health experts from NFID and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged everyone age 6 months and older to get vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 this season. Experts also urged those most at risk for severe disease to discuss new RSV prevention tools (including vaccines and monoclonal antibodies), as well as pneumococcal vaccination, with a healthcare professional.
“For the first time, we have immunizations available to help protect against the 3 major respiratory viruses—COVID-19, flu, and RSV,” said CDC Director Mandy K. Cohen, MD, MPH. “I strongly encourage you and your family to get the immunizations that are right for you. We must use all available tools to protect those most at risk, including infants and young children, pregnant people, older adults, and those with chronic health conditions.”
Although flu and COVID-19 vaccines may be coadministered, the NFID survey data show only 38% of respondents indicated that they would get both vaccines at the same time, if offered to them.
“The NFID data—which show complacency around vaccination against flu, COVID-19, RSV, and pneumococcal disease—are concerning,” said NFID President Patricia (Patsy) A. Stinchfield, RN, MS, CPNP. “These diseases can be serious, even in healthy children and adults, but the good news is that we now have prevention tools available to help protect people against severe illness and complications. We just need to use them.” According to CDC data released today, the 2022-2023 season in the US was moderately severe with an estimated 31 million symptomatic illnesses, 14 million medical visits, 360,000 hospitalizations, and 21,000 flu-related deaths, including 176 pediatric deaths.
When asked about their reasons for not getting vaccinated, survey respondents cited concerns about side effects, distrust of vaccines, and the belief that vaccines do not work well. “As healthcare professionals, we need to address these unfounded concerns and create realistic expectations about what vaccines can and cannot do,” Stinchfield said. “Even in cases when vaccination does not prevent infection entirely, getting vaccinated can help protect against serious complications, including hospitalization and death.”
Speaking at the news conference alongside Cohen and Stinchfield were Keith C. Ferdinand, MD, professor of medicine in cardiology at Tulane University School of Medicine; NFID Medical Director Robert H. Hopkins, Jr., MD; William Schaffner, MD, NFID spokesperson; and CDC Influenza Division Director Vivien G. Dugan, PhD.
CDC estimates that only 47% of US adults received a flu vaccine during the 2022-2023 respiratory season, down from 49% in 2021-2022. As in previous years, older adults were more likely than younger adults to receive a flu vaccine: 35% of adults age 18-49 years received a flu vaccine, 50% of adults age 50-64 years, and 70% of adults age 65 years and older.
Although uptake of COVID-19 vaccines was initially high, staying up to date with vaccine recommendations has been more challenging—only about 20% of US adults were vaccinated with the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine given from 2022-2023. Of concern, more than half (57%) of US adults age 65 years and older did not get the bivalent vaccine, leaving them at increased risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes including hospitalization and death.
Additionally, 97% of US adults who were hospitalized with flu-related complications in 2022-2023 had at least 1 underlying medical condition, yet only 58% of adults with at least 1 chronic health condition were vaccinated against flu. “As a cardiologist, I want my patients to understand that having a chronic health condition puts them at higher risk of developing serious complications from both flu and COVID-19,” said Ferdinand. “That’s true for people with heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, and diabetes, as well as other conditions that can weaken the immune system.”
Among children age 6 months to 17 years, flu vaccination coverage was 57% for the 2022-2023 season, consistent with the 2021-2022 season, but lower than prior to the pandemic. During the 2022-2023 flu season, flu vaccination coverage among pregnant women was 47% but significantly lower than prior to the pandemic (58%), and only 27% of women reported receiving a COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccine before or during pregnancy.
“The low rates of flu and COVID-19 vaccination among pregnant women are concerning,” said Hopkins. “Pregnant women and young children are at higher risk of hospitalization and serious related complications from both COVID-19 and flu. Flu and COVID-19 vaccination is safe during pregnancy and helps protect not only pregnant mothers but also their developing babies and newborns. Now, we can also protect infants from severe RSV illness in 2 ways—through an RSV antibody given to infants younger than age 8 months, or an RSV vaccine given to women during pregnancy.”
Disparities in vaccination coverage exist for both flu and COVID-19. CDC estimates flu vaccination coverage among all individuals age 6 months and older during the 2022-2023 season varied by race and ethnicity to include 52% among White, 45% among Black, and 44% among Hispanic populations. “Ongoing differences in vaccine uptake exacerbate the healthcare disparities that exist,” said Ferdinand. “We need greater education and awareness about the importance of vaccination, but it is also critical that we address the underlying issues that prevent people from accessing vaccines and create tailored approaches to meet people where they are.”
The NFID survey found that only 40% of US adults at higher risk for pneumococcal disease, including those age 65 years and older and those with certain chronic health conditions, had been advised by a healthcare professional to get a pneumococcal vaccine. Among those who have been advised to get vaccinated, the majority (79%) have received a pneumococcal vaccine. “This really underscores the importance of a strong vaccine recommendation from a healthcare professional,” said Schaffner. “Flu season is a great time to ask about pneumococcal vaccination because pneumococcal disease can be a serious complication of flu.”
According to the NFID survey, the majority (75%) of US adults trust healthcare professionals most for information about flu vaccines, demonstrating how important it is that healthcare professionals talk with patients about recommended vaccinations.
In response to additional survey questions regarding testing and treatment for flu, COVID-19, and RSV, as well as the use of masks:
- 2 in 3 US adults (66%) said they would use an at-home test, if available, that would accurately and quickly diagnose flu, COVID-19, and RSV at the same time
- Approximately 3 in 4 US adults (78%) would take an antiviral medication to help reduce severe flu or COVID-19 symptoms if prescribed by a doctor or other healthcare professional
- Only about 1 in 4 US adults (26%) report they will wear a mask in healthcare settings this fall and winter, with Black (39%) and Hispanic (33%) adults more likely than White (19%) adults to wear a mask in a doctor’s office, pharmacy, or hospital this season.
For more information about the 2023 NFID survey and news conference, and to access resources for use throughout this season, visit www.nfid.org/2023flunews.
On October 4, 2023, NFID will host a flu vaccine clinic in Bethesda, MD at 12:30 PM ET, as part of the Leading by Example campaign to raise awareness about the importance of annual flu vaccination. Media interested in attending should reply via email to firstname.lastname@example.org by September 29, 2023. Attendance is limited and additional details will be shared with confirmed participants in advance.
About the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
Founded in 1973, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to educating and engaging the public, communities, and healthcare professionals about infectious diseases across the lifespan. For more information, visit www.nfid.org.
NFID promotes a Take 3 approach to help prevent illness this fall and winter:
- Get vaccinated
- Practice healthy habits to help stop the spread of infectious diseases (wash hands often, stay home when sick, cover coughs and sneezes, and consider wearing a mask if you or a household member are at increased risk of severe illness)
- Treat with prescription medication if recommended by a healthcare professional.
#GetVaccinated to help #StopTheSpread, #FightFlu, #PreventRSV, and #PreventPneumo.
2023 National Survey: Attitudes about Flu, COVID-19, RSV, and Pneumococcal Disease Prevention
The NFID survey was conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. Data were collected using the AmeriSpeak Omnibus®, a monthly multi-client survey using the NORC probability-based panel designed to be representative of the US household population. Interviews for the survey were conducted between August 10-14, 2023, with adults age 18 years and older representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Panel members were randomly drawn from AmeriSpeak, and 1,000 completed the survey—913 via the web and 87 via telephone. Interviews were conducted in English.
This news conference is sponsored by NFID in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with support from professional societies and patient advocacy partners and through unrestricted educational grants from GSK, Merck & Co., Inc, Pfizer Inc., Sanofi Pasteur, and Seqirus. NFID policies prohibit funders from controlling program content.
Contact: Ned Berkowitz, 914-740-8255, Ned.Berkowitz@evokegroup.com
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