Over the past years, flu vaccination has faced immense controversy due to the long-standing debate on its safety and efficacy. With a raging pandemic, many experts believe that getting the flu vaccine in time before the northern hemisphere winter season hits could reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes and lessen the burden on health care systems across the globe.
In the United Kingdom, a team of researchers at Imperial College London has found that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has increased vaccination acceptance among the study participants. The research is published on the preprint server medRxiv*.
Conducted in the U.K., the team aimed to measure the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on acceptance of flu vaccination in the 2020-2021 season, including those newly eligible for the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) free vaccination program.
To arrive at the study findings, the research team conducted an online survey, which was administered to registrants of the Care Information Exchange (CIE), the NHS’s most extensive patient electronic personal health record.
The study participants were chosen based on the established NHS criteria, including previously or newly eligible people who had not routinely received the seasonal influenza vaccination in the past. The team divided the group based on their responses as to if they intend to receive flu vaccination in the 2020-2021 season.
What did the team find?
After analyzing the survey results, the team has found that among the more than 6,600 respondents, 61.1 percent had previously routinely received a flu vaccination, 24.5 percent had been either previously eligible but not vaccinated or newly eligible.
Further, among the respondents who were previously eligible to get the vaccine, 56.7 percent responded they would be vaccinated in 2020-2021, increasing the vaccination rate in the entire eligible group from just 70.6 percent to 91.2 percent.
When the team conducted a network analysis of the responses, they revealed that the most frequent themes for previously eligible unvaccinated and newly eligible participants to accept flu vaccination included “precaution for self” and “COVID-19”.
However, those who intend not to get vaccinated against the flu said that the vaccine made them unwell, gives them the flu, and does not work. Also, among those with school-age children, of the ones who intend to be vaccinated, 82.5 percent want their children to get vaccinated against flu this season, compared to 25.8 percent of those who don’t want flu vaccines for themselves.
Based on the study findings, the research team concluded that COVID-19 had boosted the acceptance of flu vaccination in the 2020-2021 season, from 79.6 percent to 91.2 percent in those who are previously eligible, and for the 69 percent of those newly eligible.
Since many people intend to get a vaccination against the flu, it is important for the government and the health sector in the U.K. to appropriately plan vaccination strategies to ensure that everyone gets their shot. Also, increasing awareness of the importance of the flu vaccine amid the coronavirus pandemic could be done with the help of effective messaging campaigns. This way, misconceptions and misinformation about flu vaccination could be cleared and explained appropriately.
Seasonal flu in the U.K.
Seasonal influenza (flu) puts the NHS under pressure every winter, with skyrocketing cases and hospitalizations. In the 2017-2018 flu season, the challenge of maximal bed occupancy at the peak of winter is intensified by up to 18,000 additional daily emergency admissions, with more than 4,000 hospital beds occupied by patients with flu.
Now, with the coronavirus disease pandemic and regional outbreaks in the country, healthcare systems may become overwhelmed comes the flu season.
“The NHS has extended its free seasonal flu vaccination program to all people aged over 50 (previously 65), and to an expanded school-age range to include 11-12-year-olds (previously 2-10-year-olds),” the researchers wrote in the paper.
“This expanded program now makes an estimated 32.4 million (48.8%) of the U.K. population eligible, intended to minimize the burden of flu cases in a health service preparing for ongoing waves of COVID-19,” they added.
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.