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Poll: High flu activity may catch some Americans dangerously off-guard

Survey Highlights:

  • More than half of U.S. adults (54%) surveyed indicated they were not very or not at all concerned about the upcoming flu season.
  • Concern about potential side effects from the flu vaccine (17%) was one of the top three reasons U.S. adults gave for not getting the flu shot in the past year.
  • Only 1 in 4 adults 65 and older (25%) were very familiar with the high-dose flu vaccine that’s recommended for them.

(NewMediaWire) - November 29, 2022 - DALLAS — As flu-related hospitalizations soar to record early season levels,[1] the American Heart Association, a global force for longer, healthier lives for all, is concerned many people will be caught off-guard by this health threat and urges prompt vaccination against the virus.

According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Heart Association in July, more than half of U.S. adults (54%) said they were not very or not at all concerned about the upcoming flu season.[2]

While a case of the flu can be dangerous for anyone, the risk of potentially serious complications from the flu is higher for people with cardiovascular disease. In recent flu seasons, about half of adults hospitalized with the flu also had heart disease.[3]

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that already in this flu season, there have been at least 6.2 million illnesses, 53,000 hospitalizations and 2,900 deaths from flu. That hospitalization rate is at its highest this early since the 2010-2011 flu season.[4]

“The flu is back and it’s already proving to be dangerous this year, especially for children and seniors,” said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., FAHA, the American Heart Association’s chief medical officer for prevention. “If you haven’t had your flu vaccine this season, it’s time to get a flu shot. Getting a flu shot today will help protect yourself and your family from preventable and potentially devastating and expensive complications.”

Decades of research has shown that an annual flu vaccine helps prevent or lessen the severity of flu symptoms. The flu shot is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older, but CDC data shows only about half of Americans got the long-proven vaccine last year.[5] 

Concern about side effects (17%) was one of the top three reasons U.S. adults cited in the summer survey for not getting the flu shot in the past year, along with not thinking they needed it (30%) or not being concerned about getting the flu (28%).[6]

“In this case, it’s important to look at the big picture. Those mild and temporary side effects you may have from the flu shot are tolerable compared to how bad you’ll feel and what could happen if you get the flu,” Sanchez said.

New research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions this month gives people another reason not to fear adverse reactions to the flu shot. The findings suggest mild vaccine-related side effects, such as injection site pain, may signal a strong immune response and better overall health.[7]

“This study found that individuals with high-risk heart disease who experienced mild to moderate side effects were less likely to be hospitalized for heart or lung problems, or die from any cause,” Sanchez said. “This is important because people with serious heart disease carry an increased risk of hospitalization or death from the flu. This adds more evidence to the decades of proof we already have that the flu shot works.”

Sanchez and the American Heart Association remind people that they need a new flu vaccine each year and having avoided the flu in the past is no guarantee they’ll be able to dodge it in the future.

“There are numerous strains of influenza. Even if you’ve had the flu or the flu shot before, you still need the flu shot formulated for each season. And of course, the more flu activity there is, the higher your chances of getting it,” Sanchez said.

Flu season typically affects seniors the worst, with an estimated 70 to 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths in recent years occurring each year in people 65 and older, as well as 50 to 70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations seen in this age group.[8] Seniors may also face permanent disability and loss of independence due to the flu. For these reasons, a high-dose flu vaccine is recommended for people aged 65 and older, yet a third of U.S. adults in the 65+ age group (33%) in the survey this summer had never heard of the high dose flu vaccines.[9]

“If you’re 65 or older, ask about the flu vaccines recommended for your age and get the best one that’s available at that location at that time,” Sanchez said.

Trends also indicate inequity among racial and ethnic groups. Historically, flu hospitalization rates were close to 80% higher among Black adults when compared to white adults from 2009–2022, 30% higher among American Indian/Alaska Native adults and 20% higher among Hispanic adults. Less than 43% of Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native adults were vaccinated during the 2021-22 flu season compared to 54% of white adults. [10]

Getting the flu shot is simple at most doctor’s offices, neighborhood pharmacies and Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). Many places offer them for free.

“The flu shot is one of the easiest, cheapest and most effective prevention measures I can think of to stay healthy and avoid a serious illness or death,” Sanchez said.

More information is available from the American Heart Association at heart.org/flu. The American Heart Association’s influenza prevention awareness campaign is supported by Sanofi Pasteur.

Additional Resources:

Vaccine survey methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States between July 12 - 15 and July 14 - 18, 2022, among 4,047 adults (aged 18 and over) by The Harris Poll on behalf of the American Heart Association via its Harris On Demand omnibus product. Data were weighted where necessary by age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, education, marital status, household size, household income and propensity to be online, to bring them in line with their actual proportions in the population. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in our surveys. The sampling precision of Harris online polls is measured by using a Bayesian credible interval. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within + 2.8 percentage points using a 95% confidence level. This credible interval will be wider among subsets of the surveyed population of interest. All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to other multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including, but not limited to coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments.

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About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public’s health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.  

For Media Inquiries: 214-706-1173

Jayme Sandberg: 214-706-2169; jayme.sandberg@heart.org

For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)

heart.org and stroke.org


[1] Center for Disease Control online FluView for week 46 ending Nov. 19, 2022 https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm Accessed November 16, 2022

[2] American Heart Association. 2022. Flu Vaccine Report. Online survey; USA. Conducted by The Harris Poll in July 2022

[3] Center for Disease Control online https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/heartdisease.htm Accessed November 16, 2022

[4] Center for Disease Control online FluView for week 46 ending Nov. 19, 2022 https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm Accessed November 16, 2022

[6] American Heart Association. 2022. Flu Vaccine Report. Online survey; USA. Conducted by The Harris Poll in July 2022

[8] Center for Disease Control online https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/65over.htm Accessed November 16, 2022

[9]American Heart Association. 2022. Flu Vaccine Report. Online survey; USA. Conducted by The Harris Poll in July 2022

[10] Center for Disease Control https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/flu-inequities Accessed November 16, 2022