CDC data shows that fewer Americans are getting their flu vaccines this year, and recent polling suggests whether a person gets their flu shot may depend on their political party affiliation—a trend that did not exist in previous years.
Americans and their flu shots
According to CDC, as of Oct. 29, 158.7 million flu vaccine doses have been distributed in the United States—an 8% drop from the 172.3 million doses distributed by that date in 2020.
Additionally, two recent polls—one from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and one from Ipsos/Axios—found that Democrats are more likely to get their flu shots than Republicans.
The Ipsos poll found that 68% of Democrats said they either have already gotten their flu shot or are very likely to get one, while just 44% of Republicans said the same. Meanwhile, the KFF poll found that 65% of Democrats said they either had received or will receive their flu shot, while just 40% of Republicans said the same.
The Ipsos poll also found that those vaccinated against Covid-19 were significantly more likely to have also gotten their flu shot, with 64% of vaccinated respondents saying they received their flu shot or will likely get one, compared with just 17% of unvaccinated respondents.
The partisan gap in flu shots is a new trend not seen in years past, CNN reports.
For example, an AP-NORC poll from February 2020 found 58% of Democrats said they had gotten their flu shot within the past 12 months compared with 54% of Republicans. Similarly, a poll from Princeton Survey Research Associates International in the second half of 2016 found 55% of Democrats said they had received a flu shot within the past 12 months compared with 53% of Republicans.
Heading into an 'unknown' flu season
Richard Webby, a faculty member for the infectious diseases department at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, expressed concern about the low numbers of Americans getting their flu shots.
"I think any indication that we're going to have lower flu vaccination rates is of concern," Webby said.
According to Webby, since last year's flu season was very abnormal, researchers don't have a firm idea regarding how severe this year's flu season will be. And since influenza hasn't been circulating much for a season and a half, it's possible fewer people have lingering immunity to the virus than they typically would.
"We're just headed into, really, an unknown," Webby said. "We're certainly not the best at predicting flu seasons in a typical year, and this is anything but a typical year."
Some health experts have said the worst-case scenario would be a "twindemic," with rates of both Covid-19 and flu overwhelming health care resources. However, Webby added that the flu fortunately hasn't started spreading widely yet, meaning there's still time for Americans to get their flu shots. (Astor, New York Times, 11/15; Enten, CNN, 11/14)