Cold and flu season is nearly here, with flu activity typically peaking between the months of December and February. But according to a recent poll conducted by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, around 44 percent of Americans are still unsure if they’ll get this year’s flu vaccine. Given the fact that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is still a global concern, some people may be wondering about the flu shot and COVID. So, how important is the flu shot this year?
Exploring the Flu Shot and COVID
How Did COVID Affect Last Year’s Flu Season?
Interestingly enough, flu activity was unusually low throughout the 2020–2021 flu season, despite high levels of global testing. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hypothesize that the historically mild flu season was due in part to social distancing measures and masking procedures that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, many schools were closed, and far fewer people were traveling or taking public transportation. However, last year’s mild season may have a somewhat negative impact on this year’s flu numbers. Earlier this month, CDC officials reported that, since fewer people were infected with the flu virus last year, fewer people may enjoy lasting immunity. With that in mind, health officials recommend prioritizing flu vaccination for all eligible individuals.
2021–2022 Flu Predictions
As discussed above, last year’s historically mild flu season may have negative effects on this year’s flu season numbers. First, the CDC predicts that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading during cold and flu season, which could further burden global health systems. This increased circulation will likely result from relaxed COVID-19 mitigation measures – the removal of mask mandates, for example. The CDC also predicts a worsened flu season based on data from the National Respiratory and Enteric Surveillance System (NREVSS), which showed an increase in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, during the summer. This increase in RSV fell outside of the viruses’ usual seasonal spikes, suggesting that relaxed COVID-19 mitigation measures may lead to the spread of other illnesses.
Protecting Yourself from the Flu and COVID-19
If the pandemic public health discourse has taught us anything, it’s that vaccines can be a true medical miracle. The flu shot is no exception, especially given the CDC’s estimate that the flu has caused between 12,000 and 52,000 U.S. deaths annually over the last 10 years. With this in mind, scientists work to create the strongest influenza vaccine possible year after year. To accomplish this, they have to try to predict which strains will be the most problematic during any given flu season. This year’s flu vaccine includes four different strains of influenza in order to increase the effectiveness of the vaccine. Ultimately, this shot will protect more people from the flu, reduce overall influenza-related deaths, and decrease the chance of overburdening hospitals.
The prospect of contracting COVID-19 is certainly a scary one. However, as cold and flu season approaches, health experts are urging individuals to employ flu prevention measures alongside COVID-19 prevention measures. That includes scheduling your flu shot as soon as possible, which will allow immunity to develop before flu season peaks.
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