Andrea Wroble
Andrea Wroble is a Health & Wellness Analyst at Mintel. Andrea focuses on writing reports and providing consumer-driven insights for health and wellness categories.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, feeling safe, healthy and protected is more important than ever. The continued spread of the virus in the US sheds light on the impact of contagious illness and the importance of vaccinations. Adults will seek reassurance to prove they are in control of their health to gain a greater sense of protection and security. The threat of getting sick during a global pandemic could improve proactive measures some adults take to stay healthy, such as getting an annual flu shot. In fact, some medical experts are referring to the upcoming illness season as the “twindemic” where both COVID-19 and the seasonal flu virus will spread at the same time and result in overlapping symptoms, such as coughing, fever and shortness of breath.

At the start of the year, adults were confident in self-diagnosing a cold or flu and initiating self-led treatment at the onset of symptoms, such as taking over the counter (OTC) medication or staying at home to rest, according to Mintel research on cough, cold, flu and allergy remedies. Now, health products and services must prepare for amplified concern as consumers question what illness they have and how to move forward with recovery.

Beyond concern at the consumer level, the upcoming cold and flu season means the possibility of crowded healthcare facilities, limited medical resources and compromised immune systems, similar to the needs and shortages felt across the country when COVID-19 cases initially spread. Flu shot initiatives are top-of-mind in order to lessen the health threat of the upcoming illness season while COVID-19 cases continue.

What change is happening?

National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) launched an awareness campaign in August 2020 to emphasize the potential threat of the flu during COVID-19. The organization is collaborating with Howard University College of Pharmacy and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to reach communities that are subject to disparities in healthcare. One effort they have made is releasing the campaign in both English and Spanish. According to Mintel data on OTC flu and cold medication, non-Hispanic White and non-Hispanic Asian consumers were more likely than non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic consumers to get a flu shot in 2019. The proactive health market has historically been geared toward higher-income consumers with the time and financial means to focus on personal health management, as well as jobs offering sick-leave and other wellness benefits. COVID-19 has heightened these disparities as multicultural consumers are more likely to be essential workers or work in service industries that were impacted by unemployment rates during the pandemic. Brands can utilize marketing campaigns that promote the benefits of flu shots, and where applicable, call attention to no out-of-pocket costs or even incentives.

In July 2020, the International Pharmaceutical Federation launched a platform to expand vaccine-related services for pharmacists. According to Mintel research, nearly one-third of adults receive their flu shot from a retail pharmacy/clinic. Pharmacists are perceived as trusted resources for medical/health-related information. Similar to doctors/physicians, pharmacists provide a level of expertise while being accessible without needing an appointment. In recent years, pharmacies have expanded services beyond traditional medication dispensing to include services such as customized daily medication packaging, wellness programs, a wider range of immunizations and onsite clinics. Continuing to improve on the vaccination experience may rely on building more prominent roles for pharmacists. As COVID-19 and the flu season coincide, personal consultations with a trustworthy expert, along with the availability of vaccination services, will provide value to consumers.

Convenience and safety protocols are top-of-mind for health locations providing vaccinations. Unlike other health services, flu shots do not have a telemedicine alternative, necessitating safe and simple vaccination practices to ensure people feel comfortable. CVS Pharmacy is allowing patients to make appointments for flu vaccinations as well as complete a digital intake form ahead of time to limit in-person contact. Permanente Medical Group is offering drive-through flu vaccination sites and clinics at many of their medical facilities to maintain social distancing practices. Rite Aid is promoting multiple benefits of receiving a vaccination from one of their locations: gaining protection from the influenza virus as well as asking pharmacy staff about ways to support immunity through alternative remedies. According to Mintel data on vitamins, minerals and supplements, more than one-third of those who have used a VMS product offering immune system support did so to protect against COVID-19 specifically. Personalized product advice is both beneficial to the consumer, who is receiving convenient, individual guidance, and the drug store that sells the products.

Where should brands focus?

According to Mintel research on OTC cold and flu remedies, adults aged 18-34 are most likely of all age groups to experience coughs, sore throats and fevers, yet are least likely to take action through self-led treatment methods at the onset of symptoms. Due to their age, young adults have positive health perceptions, fostering confidence in recovery and a sense of invincibility that inhibits them from managing conditions until they are debilitating. Their sense of health invincibility is driving behavior patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well.

When asked about lifestyle/routine changes made as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak during the week of August 27-September 8, 2020, 18-34-year-olds stood out as the least likely age group to adopt measures for the sake of public safety, such as wearing a face mask in public, avoiding restaurants/going out to eat and avoiding crowded places, according to Mintel’s COVID-19 Tracker – US. This age group also over indexes for feeling comfortable returning to certain activities, such as going to the gym, taking public transportation, going on a flight and dining inside a restaurant. Seemingly, for young adults, finding a sense of normalcy in day-to-day life is beginning to outweigh the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus as Americans head into cold/flu season.

Source: One Medical Instagram

Less than half of 18-34-year-olds got a flu shot from January 2019-2020 and those that did were driven by convenience or incentives, such as monetary value or receiving the vaccination during a routine medical visit. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of preventive illness practices from young adults has been named integral to public safety and slowing the spread of the virus. Health products and services must take this opportunity to reach younger age groups and encourage proactive health management, such as getting a flu shot, through education and awareness. According to Mintel research on flu shot motivations, 18-34-year-olds over-index for saying education on flu vaccination effectiveness would influence them to get a flu shot. Considering where young adults are watching, engaging with and generating content is an important first step.

Nearly half of 18-34-year-olds used general online research to look for a treatment solution or information for a common illness compared to less than one-third of the total population, according to Mintel research on the US approach to health management. More specifically, social media is a welcoming environment: more than two in five 18-34-year-olds agree social media has a positive influence on their health and wellbeing, according to Mintel research on health management trends. Brands can leverage social media platforms to spark meaningful conversations with young consumers through short-form, digestible content. Healthcare platform OneMedical, for example, has used its Instagram page to educate followers on the history of vaccinations and disease progression as well as influenza-related topics/questions.