By Dr. Anthony Policastro

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases completed an annual survey on attitudes about influenza and pneumococcal (pneumonia causing) diseases.

This year’s survey was done the week of Aug. 11 – 15. It was done primarily via the internet. There were 1,005 individuals who completed the survey. That age range was 18 years of age and older.

There were some interesting contrasts noted. Of those surveyed 69 percent agreed that annual flu vaccination is the best preventive measure against flu related deaths. However, only 49 percent of the respondents actually plan to get a flu vaccine this year. 

That means that about one third of the people who believe that vaccine is a good idea are either unsure about whether they will get it or do not plan to do so.

There is some good news. For the group over 65 years of age 65 percent of them plan to get the flu vaccine. That number is higher than the overall 49 percent. However, since that age group accounts for almost 60 percent of the total flu deaths, they are the ones with the most to lose. 

The reasons individuals give for not getting the flu vaccine are varied. About 41 percent think they do not work well. Years of flu vaccine have proven that not to be the case.

Another 39 percent are concerned about side effects from the vaccine. I usually get a sore arm for a few days after the vaccine. However, that is mild compared to flu symptoms. Most reactions fall into the mild category.

About 28 percent say they do not need it because they never get the flu. That is a credit to their immune systems. However, it is a little bit like playing Russian roulette. You don’t want your first flu illness to be severe.

Similarly 20 percent do not see flu as a serious illness. That is certainly true for younger individuals. For those under age 50 mortality is about one per 50,000 cases. That rises slightly for those 50-64 years of age to about one per 10,000 cases. Over age 65, the number is less than one per 5,000 cases. So the older you are the more serious influenza infection becomes.

Then there are the 24 percent who think that flu vaccine causes the flu. There is no medical evidence to support that theory. It is all anecdotal in nature.

A new approach is related to the issue of masking. Those answering the survey were more inclined to wear a mask than in the past. For example, 40 percent would wear a mask if flu infections are high in their community. Another 35 percent will wear masks around crowds. And, 22 percent will choose to wear masks when indoors.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of individual beliefs about flu and flu vaccine. The one thing to remember is that for those over age 65, flu can be serious. That group has the highest mortality rate. That group accounts for about 60 percent of total flu deaths. 

That is the group that needs to take flu vaccine seriously. The survey suggests that 65 percent of them do so. They will get the vaccine. The remaining 35 percent will continue to stay in the high risk area for mortality from the flu.

COVID update- Nationally the number of new cases continue to drop gradually. They went from 349,000 last week to 301,000 this week. That is the sixth successive week with a drop in the numbers.

Sussex County numbers are not available this week. The state did not update its website for the last four days. However, after the first six days of the current cycle there were 228 new cases compared to 307 in the preceding seven days.

Despite there being new strains of COVID-19 emerging, the Omicron strain still accounts for 81.5 percent of infection. That is good for those who have had recent infections with that strain. It is good for those who get the new Omicron booster.

One item that has kind of gotten lost with so many recent milder infections is that deaths from COVID-19 continue to keep occurring. At the present time, COVID-19 has killed one out of every 308 Americans over the last 2.5 years.