Is It COVID-19 or the Flu? Audiences Are Looking for Guidance as Anxieties Remain High


As COVID-19 continues, the return of the cold and flu will be different this year. Healthline Media is here to help. 

While last year’s cold and flu season was greatly reduced, this year it is expected to surge back, potentially causing a “twindemic” if COVID-19 cases are high at the same time. 

We surveyed 1,200 consumers in September 2021 to better understand how they are feeling about this upcoming season. Our survey shows that many consumers are, in fact, worried about the uncertainties of the upcoming cold and flu season and are pursuing vaccinations and products to prepare.

Given consumer anxieties, Healthline Media is here to help those looking to provide guidance, boost immunity, and even soothe symptoms if they appear. 

Many Are Worried, Especially Parents and People of Color

There is ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19 risks, and people may be confused about whether their symptoms are for a cold, the flu, or COVID-19, only compounding worries. 

  • COVID-19 is more of a worry than the flu: 39% of U.S. adults are concerned about getting the flu this winter season, while 50% are concerned about getting COVID-19.

  • But Black respondents are more anxious about both: About half are concerned about getting the flu, and 62% are anxious about COVID-19. 

  • Uncertainty touches everyone: 54% of people are concerned about being unsure whether they have COVID-19 or the flu — half of white respondents, and 61% for People of Color.

  • Parents feel uncertainty, too: 67% of parents are worried about their children experiencing symptoms and not being sure whether it’s a cold, the flu, or COVID-19.

People Are Looking for Answers

Given our survey insights, we looked at how people are searching online for answers. 

  • Searches are up: In September, “COVID-19 vs cold/flu” searches reached a staggering 570,000 searches per month.

  • Boosting immunity saw a boost: Interest in boosting immunity peaked in late August, right before the start of the school year.

Vaccine Rates Reflect Worries

Findings suggest we may see an increase in the number of people getting vaccinated for both the flu and COVID-19, most likely at a pharmacy (45%) or doctor’s office (30%). 

  • People are taking flu precautions: 65% of U.S. adults have received (27%) or plan to get (38%) the flu vaccine this winter season. 

  • COVID-19 vaccines are up: Our survey suggests that 72% of U.S. adults have received a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 65% to 68% as cited by other sources [1]. Our survey also shows that another 15% plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • The booster is popular: Among those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine, 57% plan to get a booster.

People Are Taking Action to Boost Immunity and Ease Concerns

Beyond vaccinations, the top winter season precautions include the following: 

  • Addressing symptoms: If people do get sick, they plan to take over-the-counter medications (59%), talk with a doctor (52%) — and get a COVID-19 test (46%) to help ease anxieties.

  • Stocking up: U.S. adults are stocking up on vitamins and supplements (54%), hand sanitizer (52%), pain and fever relievers (51%), and liquid hand soap (50%).

  • Planning ahead: To boost their immunity, respondents are drinking more water (61%), taking vitamins (60%) and supplements (47%), and eating healthier (49%). 

How Healthline Media Provides Support and Guidance 

Healthline Media brands are here to help provide the stories, perspectives, tools, and tips people need to face today’s uncertainty. We are already a standby resource for worried consumers: Healthline typically sees global traffic peak on stress-related content during cold and flu season. 

As part of our approach, we make sure content is accessible for all. That’s why we focus on easy to understand and actionable content, like the 5-Minute Read on Enhancing Immunity. We value material that gives today’s consumers easy, affordable ways to act on their concerns, as in 15 Foods that Boost the Immune System. As we move into winter, understanding where audiences are makes it easier to meet their needs and provide the resources they’re looking for. 

For more information on this study, please email us today or contact your Healthline Media representative.

SOURCE: Healthline Media Cold and Flu Season Study, conducted in September 2021, n=1,200 adult consumers weighted to represent the U.S. population.

1. Carlson A, et al. (2020). How is the COVID-19 vaccination campaign going in your state?

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