December 5th-11th is National Influenza Vaccination Week, hosted by the CDC. National Influenza Vaccination Week is a call to all Americans 6 months and older to get their annual flu vaccine if they have not already. Flu remains a significant public health concern, and this week will serve to remind people that there is still time to get a flu vaccine—the only vaccine that protects against flu—to prevent flu illness and potentially serious complications. In fact, in past flu seasons, 9 out of 10 adults hospitalized for flu had at least one underlying medical condition. Factors that increase ones risk for flu complications include age (over 65), asthma, heart disease, diabetes and more.
Flu season begins in roughly in fall and ends in spring the following year. Each year the CDC and other health organizations attempt to forecast what strains of influenza will be prevalent that year. This allows them to design the annual vaccine to target flu strains they believe will be more common, increasing its effectiveness. The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee uses data collected by the CDC and other organizations to design each year’s vaccine.
This flu season is an unusual one, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but vaccination against the flu is still important. In the 2018-2019 flu season, an estimated 29 million people were ill with the flu, causing an estimated 380,000 hospitalizations and 28,000 deaths. These severe effects are felt most among the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. While effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies year-to-year, it always significantly reduces one’s chance of becoming infected.
Even though many of the measures taken to slow COVID-19 spread, including social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing also reduce the spread of the flu, its important to still get vaccinated!