Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Less than 60% of people in the United States plan to be vaccinated against the flu this winter, according to a survey released Thursday by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Although fewer than one-third of respondents said that the COVID-19 pandemic would make them more likely to be vaccinated, nearly half said they were concerned about the potential effects of the new coronavirus on the seasonal bug, the data showed.
However, 25% said that if flu vaccines were offered in alternative settings -- like drive-thru clinics -- as well as medical offices and pharmacies, they would be more likely to be vaccinated.
"If there was ever a time to get the flu vaccine, this is the year," Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said Thursday during a conference call with reporters.
"We are going to see a double-barreled respiratory virus season where COVID-19 and the flu collide ... and October is the golden month" for people in the United States to make sure they are up to date with their vaccines, said Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults in August about their attitudes toward flu and pneumococcal disease, or pneumonia, prevention, just before the start of the flu season in most of the United States.
At the time, COVID-19 cases were increasing in many regions in the South and Midwest.
During the 2019-20 flu season, 48% of all U.S. adults -- and 52% of people in the country overall -- were vaccinated against the seasonal virus, a 2% increase over the previous year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of the 1,000 adults who participated in the foundation's survey, 59% said they would obtain the flu shot this year.
Assuming they do so -- and that these findings reflect national trends -- this would mark a significant increase in the number of people vaccinated against the flu, researchers said.
However, it "still isn't enough ... given the challenge we will inevitably face with COVID-19 in the winter," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on the conference call.
Being vaccinated against the flu not only reduces a person's risk for getting infected, but it also lowers the risk for severe illness and infection from the virus and "keeps [people] out of the hospital," Fauci said.
Fauci and others have warned that an expected increase in COVID-19 cases this winter could be a "challenging" situation.
Forty-six percent of the respondents to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases survey said they are worried about co-infection with flu and COVID-19, and 28% reported that the pandemic will make them more likely to become vaccinated against flu this year.
However, 22% of those surveyed who are at high risk for flu-related complications -- adults age 65 years and older, smokers and those with diabetes, asthma, heart disease or kidney disease -- said they were not planning to become vaccinated this season.
People in these high-risk groups, who also are at high risk for severe COVID-19, accounted for up to 70% of all flu-related hospitalizations in 2019-2020, according to the CDC.
Flu vaccination reduces an adult's risk for hospitalization from the virus by up to 40% and prevented up to 6,000 flu-related deaths last year, the agency estimated.
For people in these high-risk groups, "we can't emphasize any more strongly the benefits of influenza vaccine, even if we were not in the middle of the COVID-19 challenge," Fauci said.