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Dr Marie Sartain
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Researchers find association between COVID-19 and flu vaccine hesitancy

A new study suggests that COVID-19 vaccination hesitancy has spilled over into flu vaccination hesitancy. Researchers from UCLA found that adult flu vaccination rates declined in states with low rates of COVID-19 vaccination, which the authors say may be an indication of declining trust in public health.

“It is alarming that controversy surrounding COVID-19 vaccination may be undermining separate public health efforts that save thousands of lives each year,” said the study’s lead author, Richard Leuchter, MD, a resident physician at UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine, in a news release. “Many Americans who never before declined a routine, potentially life-saving vaccine have started to do so. This supports what I have seen in my clinical practice and suggests that information and policies specific to COVID-19 vaccines may be eroding more general faith in medicine and our government’s role in public health.”

The findings are published in The New England Journal of Medicine as a letter to the editor.

The study authors used publicly available data from CDC to evaluate how flu vaccination rates changed during the pandemic based on state-wide rates of COVID-19 vaccination. They found that flu vaccination rates for the first flu season of the pandemic (2020–2021), which predated the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, remained relatively stable across all states. However, in the second flu season of the pandemic (2021–2022), which was after widespread promotion of COVID-19 vaccines, flu vaccination rates dropped 4.5 percentage points (from 43.7% to 39.2%) in states with below-average rates of COVID-19 vaccination. Conversely, states with the highest uptake of COVID-19 vaccines saw increases in average flu vaccination rates of 3.8 percentage points (from 49.0% to 52.8%).

The study, however, did not directly measure individuals’ beliefs or reasons for forgoing vaccination. As an observational study, it did not prove that lack of trust of the vaccines or government caused the new decline in flu vaccination rates.

Despite these limitations, the researchers state that these findings should raise alarm and prompt rigorous study of the causes of decreases in non-COVID-19 vaccination rates.

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