American adults are ignoring public health guidance on the flu vaccine

Apparently, more than half of American adults will ignore the guidance from public health experts who are urging everyone to get the annual vaccine before the end of October.

Flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu-related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends everyday preventive actions (like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing) to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses, such as flu.

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) commissioned a survey to better understand beliefs about influenza (flu) and pneumococcal disease, as well as attitudes and practices around vaccination, including the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings highlight a need to raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination in preventing serious complications of respiratory diseases, including hospitalization and death.

Apparently, misconceptions about flu, pneumococcal disease, and COVID-19 have undermined the importance of a strong vaccine recommendation by trusted healthcare professionals.

Overall, most US adults believe annual flu vaccination is the best protection against the deadly contagious respiratory illness, but many do not plan to get vaccinated during the 2022-2023 flu season

Safe and effective vaccines are available and have been used for more than 60 years. Immunity from vaccination wanes over time so annual vaccination is recommended to protect against influenza. Injected inactivated influenza vaccines are most commonly used throughout the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends annual vaccination for:

  • pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy
  • children aged between 6 months to 5 years
  • elderly individuals (aged more than 65 years)
  • individuals with chronic medical conditions
  • health-care workers.

Each year, different flu viruses spread at different times each year. In the United States, flu season begins as early as October and ends as late as May, although infections usually peak in January or February.

Some people, such as those 65 years and older, young children, and individuals with certain health conditions are at greater risk of serious flu complications.

In the last year, eight to 13 million flu illnesses resulted in up to 170,000 hospitalizations and as many as 14,000 deaths.

Worldwide, these annual flu epidemics are estimated to result in about three to five million cases of severe illness, and about 290 000 to 650 000 respiratory deaths.

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.

Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

A 2018 CDC study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases found that on average, about eight percent of the U.S. population gets sick from flu each season, with a range of between three percent and 11 percent, depending on the season.

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

People at greater risk of severe disease or complications when infected are: pregnant women, children under five years, the elderly, individuals with chronic medical conditions (such as chronic cardiac, pulmonary, renal, metabolic, neurodevelopmental, liver or hematologic diseases) and individuals with immunosuppressive conditions (such as HIV/AIDS, receiving chemotherapy or steroids, or malignancy).

Healthcare workers are at high risk of acquiring influenza virus infection due to increased exposure to the patients and they run the risk of further spreading the disease, particularly to vulnerable individuals.

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