A prepared flu shot at Huntington Village Pediatrics last year.

A prepared flu shot at Huntington Village Pediatrics last year. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

About half of U.S. adults plan to get the flu vaccine, according to a survey released Tuesday, which health experts said could make an expected bad flu season even worse.

The survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found that only 49% of adults plan on obtaining a flu vaccination during the 2022-23 flu season. Around the same percent of adults planned to get vaccinated against flu at this time last year, health officials said.

Among those who do not plan on getting the shot, 41% said they do not think flu vaccines work very well, 39% are concerned about potential side effects, and 28% said they never get the flu. Another 24% say they're concerned the vaccine will give them the flu and 20% said they do not think flu is a serious illness, according to the survey.

"I think it's very unfortunate. We should engage people to get it," said Dr. Bruce Farber, Northwell Health’s chief of public health and epidemiology. "People are having vaccine fatigue. … This portends a more difficult year."

Leading infectious disease experts discussed the survey during a news conference in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.

“Flu is not just a bad cold. In fact, the words ‘just’ and ‘flu’ should never be in the same sentence," said NFID president Patricia Stinchfield. 

Health experts said they worry that this flu season will be especially severe, as people are no longer wearing masks and social distancing. Also, flu has hit portions of the Southern Hemisphere hard, which is often a harbinger of what lies ahead here in the United States, experts said.

Last year, 51% of people age 6 months and older received a flu vaccine, similar to what was observed in the prior season, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But two especially vulnerable groups — pregnant women and children — saw drops of about 6% in those getting the shot compared to the previous flu season, she said.

Almost 52% of people 6 months and older were vaccinated during the 2019-20 season, according to the CDC.

“While we will never exactly know what each flu season will hold, we do know that every year the best way you can protect yourself and those around you is to get your annual flu vaccine,” Walensky said. “So, I am here to strongly urge everyone who has not already been vaccinated to find the time and go get vaccinated.”

The NFID survey asked about 1,000 adults their views from Aug. 11 to 15.

Among all people 6 months and older, the percentage vaccinated during the 2020-21 season was 52.1%, similar to coverage in the 2019-20 season (51.8%).

Infectious disease experts addressed the reasons people have for eschewing the shot.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, said that while the flu vaccine varies in its effectiveness from year to year, it remains a strong weapon against serious illness and hospitalization.

She noted that while people might feel bad for a day or so after the injection, the shot cannot give a person the flu because it doesn't contains live virus.

The survey noted that only 37% of people are "not very or not at all confident" in the safety of getting both the flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

Nachman said getting the two shots together is safe, but that a person may feel more symptoms getting the two together. 

"If you're the kind of person who puts things off, get the two shots together," she said. "If you're a person who makes an appointment and gets to it, you might want to get them two weeks apart."

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