The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) pushed for Americans to get vaccinated against influenza and warned of a potentially severe flu season as the winter months approach.
“This low flu activity was likely due to the widespread implementation of COVID-19 preventive measures like masks, physical distancing, and staying home,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said late last week during a briefing. “Because of so little disease last year, population immunity is likely lower, putting us all at risk of increased disease this year,” she added.
At the same time, Walensky wrote in a Twitter post last week that people should not only get one of the COVID-19 vaccines, but recommended that individuals get the flu shot.
Between Oct. 3, 2020, and July 24, 2021, the agency saw only 2,136 positive flu tests out of 1.3 million specimens tested by clinical laboratories, according to CDC data that was provided to the JAMA medical journal. And about 736 deaths were recorded as influenza, the data show. The 2019 to 2020 influenza season saw about 35 million flu-related cases and 20,000 flu-related deaths, said the CDC.
Influenza “results in 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations” in the United States, Walensky said last week, describing it as “another toll we need to work hard to avoid.”
Last fall, about as many Americans overall got their flu vaccination as they did before the pandemic—about half of the eligible population, according to CDC data released Oct. 8.
The CDC expects vaccine makers to deliver 188 million to 200 million doses of flu vaccine. Most Americans with insurance can get one without a co-pay. Options include regular shots, shots for older adults, and a nasal spray.
At the same time they get vaccinated against flu, officials also urged older adults and people with chronic illnesses to ask about getting a vaccine against a type of pneumonia that is a frequent complication.
“None of us can predict whether it will be mild, moderate, or severe flu season, but we are certain that there will be flu activity,” William Schaffner, medical director with National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told The Washington Post. “We certainly don’t want” both COVID-19 and influenza to spike this year, he added.
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccination for just about everyone starting with 6-month-old babies. Influenza is especially dangerous for older adults, children under age 5, people with chronic health problems such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, and during pregnancy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.