On average, only about 52% of Americans get vaccinated for the flu every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 This year, with COVID-19 in the mix, healthcare professionals are hoping that number is much higher.
Because COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, it makes sense to try to minimize other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, during this flu season, and the vaccine is a great way to do that. Data available from the CDC indicates that, during the 2018-2019 flu season, vaccination reduced flu-associated hospitalization by 41% and flu-associated emergency department visits by half among children (aged 6 months to 17 years old).2
Why Don’t More Americans Get Flu Vaccinations?
A study published in late 2018 by NORC at the University of Chicago suggests those who typically opt out do so primarily because they:3
- Are concerned about side effects
Believe flu vaccines are ineffective
Worry that they will get the flu from the vaccine
Believe they are unlikely to contract the flu or won’t get very sick if they do get the flu
Don’t like needles and shots
Are concerned about the cost
Get the Flu Facts
Fortunately, these concerns and misconceptions can be addressed, and once people understand the reality of how flu shots can help, they may be more inclined to get vaccinated.
- BELIEF: Side effects may be unpleasant
REALITY: Side effects are few, mild and last only about one or two days
After hundreds of millions of doses of flu vaccines delivered in the U.S., the CDC can safely say that flu vaccines have an excellent safety record. However, some people could experience any of these mild side effects for one or two days: soreness, redness, and/or swelling at the injection site (from the shot); headache; low-grade fever; nausea; and muscle aches.
- BELIEF: Vaccines are ineffective
REALITY: The vaccine is proven to reduce the spread of flu and minimize its symptoms
The CDC says it evaluates vaccine effectiveness every year, and recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by as much as 60% among the overall population when the vaccine is well-matched to circulating viruses. During the 2019-2020 flu season, it is estimated that the influenza vaccine prevented 7.5 million flu illnesses, 105,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 6,300 influenza-associated deaths.4
- BELIEF: Vaccine causes the flu
REALITY: People do not get the flu from the vaccine
It takes about two weeks from the time of vaccination for the body to develop immune protection, so it’s possible to get infected with the virus during that time. The immunization that is administered with a needle (i.e., a shot) is made with either inactivated viruses or with only a single protein from the virus. The nasal spray form contains live viruses that are weakened so that they will not cause illness.
- BELIEF: Flu won’t be a problem
REALITY: This is the year to get a flu vaccine
There may be people who have never gotten a flu shot and have managed to avoid contracting the illness. However, this is the year that everyone should get the vaccination, even if they are in exceptional health. While getting a flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, it will help protect against flu, which may end up saving healthcare resources for the care of patients with COVID-19.
- BELIEF: Needles and shots are scary
REALITY: A nasal spray version may be an option for those who are fearful of needles
The nasal spray flu vaccine is approved for use in healthy non-pregnant individuals who are ages two years through 49. Unfortunately, it is not the right choice for some, so members should consult their doctors to determine the best options.
- BELIEF: It may be expensive
REALITY: It could be free
Most insurance plans cover the entire cost for flu vaccinations, including Medicare Part B, but those who don’t have coverage should check with their local health departments, where they may be eligible for low- or no-cost access. Flu shots at Rite Aid are available during pharmacy hours; no appointment is necessary. To locate the nearest Rite Aid pharmacy, visit riteaid.com. Prescription savings programs like GoodRx offer discounted flu vaccinations through a network of retailers nationally. For participating pharmacy locations and pricing, visit the GoodRx flu vaccine program page.
In addition, plan sponsors who have members within a 25-mile radius of a Rite Aid can request a workplace flu clinic. Learn more here.
In the U.S., fall and winter months are typically considered flu season. That’s why the CDC recommends flu vaccination for everyone aged six months and above (who don’t have contraindications) starting as early as September. With peak infections occurring from December to February, it’s best to get vaccinated before the end of October so your body has time to develop the protective antibodies. However, the adage “better late than never” applies, and vaccines should continue to be available well into January or even later.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Flu Vaccination Coverage. 2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: What are the Benefits of Flu Vaccine? 3 NORC at the University of Chicago (2018): 41 Percent of Americans Do Not Intend to Get a Flu Shot this Season. 4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 2019-2020 Flu Season: Burden and Burden Averted by Vaccination