Amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the northern hemisphere is fast approaching winter, which will increase influenza cases. Health experts are urging people to get flu shots.
Flu vaccination is an important way to reduce the burden on the health system since it has over ten months since the emergence of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.
While the first wave of the pandemic missed most of the flu season in Europe and the United States, a second COVID wave is likely to overlap with the 2020–2021 season. Healthcare systems come under substantial strain during a typical flu season, which would be compounded if there is an increase in COVID-19 cases this year.
Now, a team of researchers at Keele University and Public Health England aimed to determine how many residents in the U.K. intend to get flu shots amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers found that 55.8 percent of people intended to have the vaccination.
The study, which appeared as a preprint on the medRxiv* server, estimated the number of people willing to get vaccinated against influenza in preparation for winter.
The team recruited a nationally representative sample of 1,500 adults in the United Kingdom through Prolific’s online research panel. The participants were asked to complete a survey asking sociodemographic profiles, clinical questions, COVID-19, and possible COVID-19 vaccination.
About 645 participants are eligible for the vaccination. Of these, more than half said they intend to get the flu shots. Previous research suggests that increasing uptake of the flu vaccine may help contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Hence, steps to help everyone to pursue their intention is crucial.
Further, the team asked the participants if they received a flu shot in the previous year and how likely they would be to have the flu shot this year. Of the 514 eligible respondents who showed a clear intention to get a flu shot, 60.6 percent reported having the shot last winter, while 39.4 percent said they were not vaccinated.
The study findings strongly suggest that those who received the flu vaccine the previous year are likely to intend to have it again this year. However, vaccination intention in these individuals eligible for the vaccine was higher than the reported uptake last year. This may mean that the uptake this year may be lower than those who said they intend to get the shots.
Therefore, health agencies and governments need to exert efforts to convert positive intentions into behavior. Proper messaging, information dissemination, and vaccine delivery should ensure that these individuals receive the vaccine, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has left many people locked down in their homes. Some people also fear going to hospitals or clinics to get flu shots due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Increasing uptake of the seasonal influenza vaccine in a timely fashion will relieve pressure on the service. If this is to be successful, strategies to achieve this increase need to be implemented now,” the researchers concluded in the study.
The flu season and COVID-19
The skyrocketing cases of COVID-19 across the globe, especially in countries reporting the second wave of outbreaks, may take a toll on healthcare systems. Many hospitals are maxing out their bed capacities to accommodate coronavirus cases.
With the flu season coming, it is expected that hospitalizations may increase. With two diseases ravaging the globe, hospitals may lack the human resources and facility to cater to all patients. Hence, preventing flu illness, which may also lead to hospitalizations in high-risk populations, is essential.
Flu vaccination in the United Kingdom mostly occurs from December to March every year, with the national vaccination program starting in September. The vaccination is free via the NHS to children between two and eleven years old, adults who are more than 65 years old, pregnant women, healthy workers, and people at high risk of flu complications.
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.