Pharmacy & Healthcare

Could misconceptions keep people from getting the flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Nearly three-fourths of U.S. adults plan on getting a flu shot this season, but a survey suggests misconceptions could keep the other fourth from getting vaccinated.
Alexandra Brown, Walgreens Stories
A new Walgreens survey conducted online in August by The Harris Poll reveals that for many, the COVID-19 pandemic has created urgency around getting this year’s flu vaccine.
The survey showed that 72 percent of Americans say they probably or definitely will get the flu shot this season, with 32 percent of all U.S. adults saying they are more likely to get a flu shot this year than in previous years. More than 3 in 5 of those who are now more likely to get vaccinated cited the same motivation: wanting to do everything they can to stay healthy during the pandemic (61 percent).

But what about those who still don’t plan on getting a flu shot? The survey collected information on the barriers and misconceptions that might keep some from doing so, even as health experts warn about a possible “twindemic,” or convergence of COVID-19 and flu season. We asked Walgreens’ chief medical officer, Dr. Kevin Ban, to address the findings and help us put some of these fears to rest.

THE STAT: Just under half of Americans (47 percent) don’t know that the flu vaccine cannot help prevent COVID-19, including about 1 in 3 (32 percent) who are not at all sure. 
DR. BAN SAYS: “While they share some similarities, the flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses. Influenza (the flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious infections caused by viruses that spread through respiratory droplets. They can cause mild to severe illnesses and similar symptoms, including fever, cough, body aches and fatigue.

“Although we don’t yet have a COVID-19 vaccine, we do have a flu vaccine, and getting your flu shot can help to reduce your risk of getting both respiratory illnesses at the same time.”

THE STAT: Almost 3 in 10 U.S. adults (29 percent) say they don’t typically get the flu shot because they think they can get the flu despite getting vaccinated.  
DR. BAN SAYS: “Although getting the flu shot cannot guarantee you won’t get the flu, it does significantly reduce your risk of severe symptoms and being hospitalized, and we want everyone to do their part to help relieve the burden on our healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic. While we don’t yet have a COVID-19 vaccine available, we do have a flu vaccine and we know it has been shown to prevent millions of illnesses and doctor visits each year.”
THE STAT: Thirty percent believe they can get the flu from the flu shot, and 18 percent are not sure whether they can get the flu from the flu shot.  
DR. BAN SAYS: “A flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. The vaccine is manufactured using what’s known as a ‘dead’ or inactive virus, so it cannot cause anyone to get influenza as a result of receiving the vaccine.[1]  
“It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection. But people assume that because they got sick after getting the vaccine, the flu shot caused their illness. That's why it's best to get vaccinated before the flu virus starts to spread in your community.”
THE STAT: Three in 10 (30 percent) believe that, if they get the flu, taking antibiotics will make them better.
DR. BAN SAYS: “Antibiotics work well against bacteria, but they aren't effective in combatting a viral infection like the flu. That said, some people can develop a bacterial infection as a complication of the flu and should contact their doctor if flu symptoms drag on or worsen.[2]
THE STAT: About 1 in 4 Black and Hispanic adults (28 percent and 23 percent, respectively) say they are less likely to get a flu shot this year than in previous years, compared to 15 percent of white adults.
DR. BAN SAYS: “This isn’t entirely surprising because we know that vaccination rates have traditionally been lower among Black and Hispanic populations. However, it is concerning because health inequities have contributed to Black and Hispanic communities being at greater risk for both COVID-19 and the flu, so getting vaccinated against the flu is all that much more important for these populations. Cost may be a barrier to getting a flu shot, especially as unemployment rates remain historically high at 8.4 percent[3] and many being uninsured as result. Flu shots are covered at no cost to the patient by most insurance plans, Medicare Part B and Medicaid[i] in certain states. Walgreens also lowered the cash price on flu shots for members of the Prescription Savings Club to $30 for a standard-dose flu shot.”

For more information on getting your flu shot or to prepare for an immunization visit at Walgreens, please visit us

Survey Methodology: The survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Walgreens from Aug. 4 to 6, 2020 among 2,043 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Alexandra Brown.
[1] “Misconceptions about Flu Vaccines.” CDC. Updated September 1, 2020.
[2] “10 Flu Myths.” Harvard Health Publishing. November 12, 2018.
[3] “The Employment Situation – August 2020.” Bureau of Labor Statistics U.S. Department of Labor. September 23, 2020.
[i] Varies by state. See pharmacy for details.

Explore Themes in this Article