Did COVID Vax Campaign Sink Inoculation Rates for the Flu?June 15, 2022
Certain factors leading to lower rates of COVID-19 vaccination in certain states may have spilled over to uptake of the seasonal flu shot, an observational study suggests.
Rates of flu vaccination were stable during the first influenza season of the pandemic, but following the widespread release of vaccines for the coronavirus, flu vaccination rates varied in ways that correlated with states’ COVID-19 vaccination rates, reported Richard K. Leuchter, MD, of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, and colleagues.
For states in the lower quartiles of COVID-19 vaccination, rates of flu vaccination dropped from 43.7% and 45.5% in 2020-2021 to 39.2% and 43.5% in 2021-2022, according to their New England Journal of Medicine correspondence.
Meanwhile, states in the top quartiles of COVID-19 vaccination saw flu vaccination rates increase from 46.9% and 49.0% in the first year of the pandemic to 47.7% and 52.8% following the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines.
Decreases in flu vaccination were driven by lower rates among children; reassuringly, the researchers noted, flu vaccination in older adults remained stable.
“It is alarming that controversy surrounding COVID-19 vaccination may be undermining separate public health efforts that save thousands of lives each year,” Leuchter said in a press release.
“Many Americans who never before declined a routine, potentially life-saving vaccine have started to do so,” he added. “This supports what I have seen in my clinical practice and suggests that information and policies specific to COVID-19 vaccines may be eroding more general faith in medicine and our government’s role in public health.”
National data for the study were taken from the CDC during both the first (September 2020 to January 2021) and second (September 2021 to January 2022) flu seasons of the pandemic. By January 2022, COVID-19 vaccination rates by state ranged from 50% (Alabama) to 81% (Rhode Island) while flu vaccination rates ranged from 31% (Mississippi) to 59% (Connecticut).
A sensitivity analysis estimated that 60% of the variation in flu vaccination rates could be explained by a state’s COVID-19 vaccine rates.
“Although inferences about specific policies and messaging promoting COVID-19 vaccination are beyond the scope of this ecologic study, our findings suggest that after the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, factors associated with COVID-19 vaccination rates (e.g., safety concerns and mistrust of COVID-19 vaccines or government may have spilled over to affect influenza vaccination rates,” Leuchter’s group concluded.
There were some limitations to the study, the researchers cautioned, including that no data regarding individual reasoning for choice in vaccination was examined. Also, the data provided by the CDC regarding flu vaccination status were based on self-reported surveys.
This study was supported by the NIH, and the University of California Los Angeles.
Leuchter and co-authors reported relationships with the NIH, Milliman MedInsight, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.