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How COVID-19 Underscores the Importance of Public Confidence in Vaccines

Serese Marotta
Posted on December 7, 2020
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Serese Marotta, Chief Operating Officer for Families Fighting Flu, shares her perspective on the importance of influenza vaccination. This post was originally published on The Catalyst

The 2009 H1N1 pandemic was a blip on the radar for most people. For many Americans, life went on without  skipping a beat, with little impact to their daily lives. But my family was forever changed when we lost our 5- year-old son Joseph to the H1N1 flu pandemic. Joseph died before the H1N1 vaccine was available in our community. Now, 11 years later, we are once again experiencing a pandemic, and at a scale exponentially greater than 2009.

Losing Joseph led me to Families Fighting Flu, where my family is one of many who have seen firsthand how serious the flu can be. We work to raise awareness and educate others about the importance of protecting their loved ones from the flu through vaccination. I want everyone to know that CDC recommends that everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season unless they have a  contraindication. Further, flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of severe complications and even dying from flu. It’s not just children who benefit either—flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalizations among older adults by about 40%.

As we enter flu season this year, the virus on everyone’s mind is COVID-19. The public eagerly anticipates a COVID-19 vaccine as a tool to help us move back to “normal” life. However, we know that while 72% of Americans say they would consider getting a vaccine for COVID-19 if it were available today, only about 52% of Americans received a flu vaccine last season, despite the flu sending 400,000 people to the hospital last season alone.

There are many myths around the flu vaccine that contribute to the low vaccination rates—chief among them the fact that many Americans think it is not effective even though the flu vaccine can reduce risk of illness by 60%. And at the same time, some may not realize that we continue to see the biopharmaceutical industry contribute to progress and innovation in flu vaccination, including improved influenza vaccine technologies, expanded vaccine supply and improved vaccine effectiveness. For example, for older adults we now have a high dose flu vaccine, in addition to a flu vaccine made with an adjuvant, which is an ingredient designed to create a stronger immune response.

Now, even with hundreds of millions of Americans safely receiving flu vaccines for more than 50 years, vaccine skepticism remains. The need to educate the public and build confidence in vaccines is a pillar of pandemic preparation. After all, what value is a COVID-19 vaccine if it’s sitting on the shelf?

So how can we overcome these challenges? In recent years, we have learned that myth busting about vaccine safety is not effective, and can actually backfire. We also know that data and numbers – while important to inform our approaches to fight illness – do not motivate behavior change, but personal stories do. That is why at Families Fighting Flu we share our personal stories, to create an emotional connection and help people understand they can take action to help protect their families.

Before COVID-19, most of us took vaccines for granted. Now, we’re seeing every day what can happen without a safe and effective vaccine to mitigate or potentially prevent a pandemic. My hope is that we will all talk to our friends and families about the importance of getting a flu vaccine this year and every year. Now, more than ever, it’s important to take advantage of innovative flu vaccines that are available to us today – while we wait hopefully for a COVID-19 vaccine to help mitigate the ongoing pandemic.

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