COVID-19 has left many people vaccine-fatigued, but with this year’s seasonal flu predicted to be severe and widespread, a flu shot is your best protection.
Using international data as a guide, virus researchers warn that this year’s flu could be the worst in years, lasting longer than ever.
“I wish I could say such predictions are invalid, especially since experts predicted a severe flu season last year and that did not materialize. Unfortunately, this time, such predictions may actually be valid,” said Henry Anyimadu, MD, chief of infectious disease for MidState Medical Center and The Hospital of Central Connecticut.
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Historically, Dr. Anyimadu said flu season in the northern hemisphere mirrors what happens in the southern hemisphere. Australia reported one of its worst flu seasons in five years, logging more than twice the number of cases as 2019.
“Their season started earlier than usual. As a function of time, the longer the flu hangs around, the more people are infected and the more severe the overall season will be,” he explained.
After masking and social distancing for two winters during the COVID-19 pandemic, collective immunity is lower, leaving people more susceptible to seasonal flu.
“We are all susceptible to severe influenza unless we boost our immunity with a vaccine,” Dr. Anyimadu said.
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Why should I get the flu vaccine?
Flu vaccine does not prevent the flu, he stressed. But, it is key to preventing severe disease.
“Unlike COVID vaccines and others that offer more than 90% protection against infection and severe disease, influenza vaccine offers about 40 to 60% protection against infection overall, but is very helpful in preventing severe disease or death,” he said.
This is key since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 20,000 to 50,000 people in the U.S. die each year from influenza.
Who is at risk?
Specific groups are at highest risk of severe flu infection and death, including:
- Children under five
- Adults over 65
- Pregnant women
- Residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities
- People with compromised or weakened immune systems
- Black people
- People with chronic lung diseases, asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disorders and blood disorders
- Hispanic or Latino people
- People who are obese
“As you can tell, more than half of Americans will be at risk,” Dr. Anyimadu said.