Discussing Flu and Pneumococcal Vaccines With Patients During COVID-19

Pharmacist giving customer flu shot

Considering COVID-19 has dominated the news all across the world, some people could have been distracted from other medical concerns that exist. And as flu season approaches, getting vaccinated is still something patients need to prioritize. Health officials in the United States have urged Americans to get influenza and pneumococcal vaccines, but recent data from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases showed only 59% of American adults plan to get their flu shot for the upcoming flu season.¹ This is despite recommendation by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that Americans aged 6 months and older should receive annual flu vaccines.

It remains uncertain how the coronavirus news will affect vaccinations during this upcoming flu season. In June 2020, a study published in Vaccine suggested that there was increased interest in influenza and pneumococcal vaccines worldwide in February and March of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was rapidly increasing.² The researchers surmised that this could lead to a surge in demand come flu season, as trends were based less on season and more on where the COVID-19 hotspots were located.

It’s possible, then, that many patients will already be concerned enough with health to want to undergo vaccination. However, the medical and public health professions have spent years raising awareness of the necessity of an annual flu shot, and physicians are no strangers to the notion of patients being resistant to vaccines. Studies have been conducted on the struggle to promote the influenza vaccine across different demographics who may be wary of or indifferent to them. A study published in Vaccine in 2015 examined 14 years worth of communications research by the CDC to find insights for better promoting influenza vaccination.³ Often, they found that the flu shot tended to be perceived as something mostly needed by the most susceptible populations; surveys consistently found that most people aged 18 to 49 did not believe they needed a flu shot. A sizable percentage of respondents to many surveys also believed the vaccine wasn’t effective in preventing the flu.

This study also found that healthcare professionals’ recommendations were highly valued by patients, and they often cited physician recommendation as the reason for receiving their flu shot. This matters quite a bit, as the most frequently cited reason for not receiving the vaccine was because patients did not believe they needed it. It’s important to stress to patients not only the importance of receiving influenza and pneumococcal vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic, but also that it is possible for someone to have both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

The way influenza and COVID-19 could intersect is one way to express the need to receive influenza and pneumococcal vaccines; not only that a patient getting both could prove fatal, but that too many cases of each could overwhelm the healthcare system and lessen the chance for adequate treatment. Another method is to explain how getting a flu shot has become more convenient in recent years. In addition to vaccinations administered as part of an office visit, patients also have access to free flu shots at pharmacies.⁴ Reassure your patient that getting vaccinated is the safest and most convenient preventive measure, and that vaccination in tandem with standard COVID-19 preventive measures like social distancing and mask wearing gives them the best chance at staying safe and healthy this year.


  1. US health officials urge influenza and Pneumococcal vaccination amid COVID-19 pandemic. Prnewswire.com. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/us-health-officials-urge-influenza-and-pneumococcal-vaccination-amid-covid-19-pandemic-301142447.html. October 1, 2020. Accessed October 15, 2020.
  2. Paguio JA, Yao JS, Dee EC. Silver lining of COVID-19: heightened global interest in pneumococcal and influenza vaccines, an infodemiology study. Vaccine. 2020;38(34):5430-5435. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2020.06.069
  3. Nowak GJ, Sheedy K, Bursey K, Smith TM, Basket M. Promoting influenza vaccination: insights from a qualitative meta-analysis of 14 years of influenza-related communications research by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccine. 2015;33(24):2741-2756. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2015.04.064
  4. Shipt offers free flu shots at CVS pharmacy to shoppers during COVID-19. Prnewswire.com. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/shipt-offers-free-flu-shots-at-cvs-pharmacy-to-shoppers-during-covid-19-301145142.html. October 5, 2020. Accessed October 19, 2020.