Before the flu season started, medical professionals were so concerned that there could be a rise in influenza (flu) and COVID-19 cases, that they started reaching out to the community in the early fall.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the America Medical Association (AMA), and the Ad Council launched a campaign to encourage people to protect themselves this year and get a flu vaccination.
“We’re trying to push the economy forward,” said Dr. Willie Underwood, a member of the AMA Board of Trustees and a board-certified urologist said during the #NoTimeForFlu campaign. “Everyone has all these other concerns that are going on. Let’s not get sick.”
Flu vaccines are now available for people 6 months old and older. In addition, flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time, the CDC says. Most flu shots are given in the arm muscle with a needle, but there also is also a nasal spray flu vaccine.
The CDC recommends people with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in a flu vaccine (other than egg proteins) should not get that vaccine. In addition, people who have had a severe allergic reaction to a flu shot in the past, should not get a flu vaccine.
All flu vaccines are designed to protect against four different flu viruses that research indicates will be most likely to spread and cause illness: A(H1N1), A(H3N2), and two strains of influenza B, according to the CDC.
For many years, flu vaccines were designed to protect against two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus. Another B virus was added to provide broader protection again circulating flu viruses.
For the week ending on December 11, the CDC reported that the majority of viruses detected were A(H3N2).
Low Number of Flu Cases Reported Last Season
During the 2020-21 flu season, the number of cases reported to the CDC—and even to the World Health Organization—were the lowest in years. Epidemiologists suggest that the unusually low numbers were the result of wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing, and staying home—global public health measures taken to stem the tide of COVID-19 cases. What’s more, the CDC reported a record number of flu vaccine doses were distributed in the U.S. during the 2020-21 flu season.
The situation may be different during this flu season. Two studies conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania suggest that the 2021-22 flu season could result in 100,000 to 400, 000 more flu hospitalizations. However, both studies say that a bad flu season and the predicted hospitalizations can be avoided if the rate of flu shots increased by 20 percent to 50 percent compared to a typical year.
“Vaccinating as many people against flu as possible will be key to avoiding this scenario,” Dr. Mark Roberts, director of the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and senior author of both studies, said in a statement.
Each year, at least 45 million people get sick with the flu and more than 700,000 people end up in the hospital, the AMA reports. No one has time for that, especially now with COVID-19, Dr. Underwood said.