In a recent survey, just over 50 percent said they had received a flu vaccine, unchanged in a representative national panel from the comparable period last year and within the usual range of years prior to the pandemic. Before people thought COVID-19 was just a bad cold (coronavirus is in the same family and was only declared distinct in the 1960s) they thought the flu was a bad cold. Or believed they were more likely to get the flu if they had a vaccine.
The panel survey, fielded with over 1,600 U.S. adults, finds that many have a base of knowledge about the flu and inquired more broadly about attitudes toward vaccine mandates and the continuing “return to normal”:
Credit: Annenberg Public Policy Center
Nearly half of Americans (49%) do not know it is safe to get a flu shot during pregnancy.
Over half of Americans (53%) say the Army should be able to require Covid-19 vaccination for soldiers who do not have a medical or religious exemption – and a plurality (45%) say public schools should be able to require Covid-19 vaccination of all children who do not have a medical or religious exemption.
Only 10% of those who had heard of NFL player Damar Hamlin’s on-field collapse think that vaccination was connected to his cardiac arrest – but many more are not sure whether the rate of heart-related deaths has increased among young athletes over the past three years.
More than half of Americans (52%) now say their lives have returned to a pre-pandemic normal, up significantly from 47% in October 2022.
Many people know the basics about the flu:
Handwashing: 93% of respondents know that washing your hands helps you avoid getting sick from or spreading the seasonal flu.
Getting the flu again: 83% know it’s possible to get the flu more than once in a flu season.
Vaccine effectiveness: 77% know that the effectiveness of the seasonal flu shot in the United States can vary from year to year.
However, 19% of respondents also think, incorrectly, that the effectiveness of the measles vaccine can vary from year to year and 40% are not sure.
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed (73%) think the seasonal flu shot is effective at reducing the risk of getting the flu this year.
Mask-wearing: 77% know that wearing a high-quality, well-fitting mask helps limit the spread of flu.
Contagion: 76% know it’s possible to spread the seasonal flu to others even if you have no symptoms.
14% of our respondents say they have had the flu this season. Of this group, 8% had no symptoms; 29% had mild symptoms; 43% had moderate symptoms; and 19% had severe symptoms.
A majority of the public knows that the following claims are false:
Flu vaccine and Covid-19: Three-quarters (77%) know it’s false to say that the seasonal flu shot increases your risk of getting Covid-19 – though 6% incorrectly think this is true and 17% are not sure whether it is true or false.
Better late than never: 71% know it’s false to say that if you haven’t gotten your flu shot by November, there’s no value in getting it – though 11% incorrectly think this is true and 18% are not sure. (The CDC recommends vaccination even after November because significant flu activity can continue into May.)
Cold weather: Nearly two-thirds (65%) know it’s false to say that cold weather causes the flu – but a third either incorrectly think this is true (22%) or are not sure (13%).
The flu can be treated:
64% of respondents know it’s false to say there is no treatment for the flu – but 23% incorrectly think this is true and 13% are not sure if it is true.
Areas of uncertainty
The public are confused about:
Pregnancy: Almost half (49%) do not know that it is safe to get a flu shot during pregnancy, including the 10% who think it is not safe and 39% who are unsure. Just 51% know it is safe.
Get flu from the shot? 46% do not know you cannot get the flu from the flu shot, including 29% who think you can get the flu from the shot and 16% who are not sure.
Antibiotics and the flu: 45% do not know that the flu cannot be treated with antibiotics, including 25% who think it can be treated with antibiotics and 20% who are unsure.
Antibiotics and viruses: 40% do not know that antibiotics do not work on viruses such as those that cause colds, the flu, and Covid-19 – including 20% who think it is false to say antibiotics don’t work on viruses, and 20% who are unsure.
Attitudes toward flu vaccination
Tamiflu: Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed (65%) disagree with the statement that there’s no need for a flu shot because they can always use Tamiflu to treat flu symptoms.
Breakthrough infections: 58% disagree with the statement that breakthrough seasonal flu infections are evidence that flu shots don’t work – though 15% agree and 26% neither agree nor disagree.
Danger to children: 57% disagree with the statement that children do not need the seasonal flu shot because they are at a low risk of death from the flu – though 18% agree and 25% neither agree nor disagree.
Flu shots for all: Just 41% agree that every person older than six months should get a flu shot every year – 33% disagree and 26% neither agree nor disagree. The CDC recommends a flu shot every season for nearly everyone six months and older.
How many have had a flu shot and why
The survey finds that 49% of respondents say they have had a seasonal flu shot, statistically unchanged from 47% in our January 2022 survey and 50% in April 2021. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 46% of U.S. adults 18 and older had a flu shot as of December 31, 2022.
The CDC actively promoted flu vaccination amid concerns that the 2022-23 season would be severe.
When the 49% of survey respondents who said they got the flu vaccine were asked in January why they got the shot (multiple responses were permitted):
69% said I get it every year (down from 78% in January 2022)
64% said to protect myself against catching the flu (up from 44% in January 2022)
8% said to protect myself against Covid-19 (unchanged from 9% in January 2022)
25% said because it is recommended by the CDC (this response was not previously offered)