Remember when that Scottish rock band Simple Minds sang “Don’t You Forget About Me?” Well, the concern right now is that all this Covid-19 stuff may have helped too many Americans forget about the flu and how bad it can be. A survey of 1,005 US adults conducted in mid-August and commissioned by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NFID) found that only 49% planned to actually get the vaccine this fall. And 20% of those who didn’t plan to get vaccinated actually didn’t even think of the flu as a serious illness, which sounds like they think cradles falling from the sky aren’t a serious problem. That’s why a key recurring message from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NFID experts at Tuesday’s 2022 Annual Influenza and Pneumococcal News Conference hosted by NFID in Bethesda, Maryland, was to let’s not forget the flu, let’s catch the flu. seriously, and get a flu shot.
During the conference, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, stated that, “Over the past two years, we have seen some alarming declines in influenza vaccination coverage, especially in certain groups of people who are at the highest risk of developing severe flu,” as you can see in the video below:
What is an alarming drop? A CDC FluVaxView website report shows that influenza vaccination coverage among US adults 18 years and older during the 2020-2021 flu season was estimated to be 50.2%. Such a level of coverage would already be well below the herd immunity thresholds needed to truly stop influenza virus transmission in a population. Well, estimated vaccination coverage got even worse in the upcoming 2021-2022 flu season, falling to 45.5%, according to the CDC’s Weekly Immunization Table. And unlike golf scores and the number of times a ferret hits you in the groin with a golf club, a lower vaccination coverage number is clearly not better.
Why might this vaccination coverage have declined? A large part of the reason may have been the relatively low flu activity of the past two Winters. Each year from 2010 to 2020, influenza resulted in approximately nine to 41 million illnesses, 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 to 52,000 deaths in the US alone. The CDC didn’t even have such estimates for the 2020-2021 flu season because of what they called “minimal flu activity.” And for the 2021-2022 flu season, those estimates were nine million illnesses, 100,000 hospitalizations and 5,000, well below the previous decade’s levels.
In Walensky’s words, “the timing and severity of the last two flu seasons have been different from our typical flu seasons before the Covid-19 pandemic, and this is likely due to Covid mitigation measures and other changes in circulating respiratory viruses. ” In other words, Covid-19 precautions, such as social distancing and face mask use, likely helped prevent the transmission of not only severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), but also influenza virus.
Obviously, lower flu activity is better. No man should say, “it would be better if there were more flu cases,” unless that man served as a lobbyist for the flu virus. However, such low flu activity may have created a false sense of security. Another conference attendee, William Schaffner, MD, NFID Medical Director and Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told me after the meeting that “for many people, in recent memory, the flu is not a concern. ” This, in turn, may lead people to worry less about the flu shot. Schaffner also mentioned the fatigue problem: “My concern is because of the Covid fatigue and the Covid vaccine, you almost have to remind people about the flu and other respiratory illnesses.”
The NFID survey, conducted from August 11 to 15, 2022, asked people who said they did not plan to vaccinate in the coming season their reasoning for not doing so. Well, 41% of the unvaccinated believed that flu shots don’t work very well, even though numerous studies have shown that flu shots can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization and death. Although the flu vaccine’s effectiveness can vary from year to year, depending on how well the strains of virus in the vaccine match the strains in circulation, Schaffner stressed that each year the vaccine should offer at least some protection against more of severe flu outcomes and potential transmission. of the virus. He also added that so far, “the H3N2 virus in this season’s vaccine seems to be a good fit.”
The NFID survey also showed that 39% of people who were not going to get vaccinated were worried about possible side effects, despite the fact that flu vaccines have had a very good safety record over the past five decades. Almost a quarter (24%) were worried about getting the flu from the vaccine, which can’t really happen because the virus in the vaccine is either completely inactivated or too weak to infect you. Then there were 28% who said they had never had the flu and 20% who didn’t think of the flu as a serious illness, despite all the aforementioned statistics showing how many people get the flu, are hospitalized with the flu, and die. As a result. It is clear that there is a disconnect between the perception of the flu and the flu vaccine and the scientific data.
Again, the main concern right now is that the US could be headed for a bad flu season. This year, many people ditched Covid-19 precautions like social distancing and wearing face masks like they were three-day-old cheesecake. This could leave the American population like a guy in a thong mankini, much more exposed. In fact, what happened in the 2021-2022 flu season compared to the 2020-2021 flu season showed what happened after the relaxation of Covid-19 precautions, such as face mask requirements, in 2021. “Last year’s flu season was relatively mild,” Walensky explained. “However, there was more activity during the 2021-2022 flu season than the previous season. “Influenza activity last season began to increase in November and remained elevated until mid-June, making it the latest season on record.” Yes, after almost no flu season from 2020 to 2021, the 2020-2021 flu season lasted over half a year. Do you still think that wearing a face mask makes no difference to the transmission of respiratory viruses such as Covid-19 and the flu virus?
Speaking of face mask use, 58% of NFID survey respondents said they would wear a mask at least a few times during flu season with 40% saying they would if flu and/or Covid-19 activity 19 increase. community and 35% when around crowds and large groups of people. Schaffner reported that he was “encouraged by the results of the face mask. This is learned behavior with people who have internalized the effectiveness of wearing a face mask and how easy it is to do it.”
Since flu season tends to peak in November or the following months, it’s a good idea to get your flu shot before the end of October. Remember that a vaccine is not like wearing a pair of pants. Immune protection does not come immediately, but takes about two weeks to fully kick in after vaccination. With so much going on around you, it can be easy to forget to get your flu shot. But even if you forget the flu, the virus isn’t likely to forget how to infect you.