Everything You Need To Know About The 2021 Flu SeasonNovember 10, 2021
It is more important than ever to get your flu shot this season. The CDC estimates the flu has resulted in 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 52,000 deaths each year between 2010 and 2020. Getting your annual flu shot is the best prevention against the virus. It protects both you and the people around you.
In addition, many people at higher risk for flu are also at higher risk for COVID-19, but there are ways to reduce risks for severe disease from both.
Getting both vaccines is the best way to avoid illness this flu season.
The flu shot does not give someone the flu, just as no one can contract COVID-19 from the COVID vaccines. Conversely, flu vaccination reduces the risk of illness by more than 50%, and studies show the COVID vaccines are even more effective at preventing severe illness, even with the rise in variants.
Understanding flu shot hesitancy.
Despite the flu shot being the best defense against the influenza virus, only around half of Americans get the flu vaccine each year. A 2021 survey conducted by the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases found 44% of respondents were unsure or do not plan to get the vaccine.
Misinformation can be a big problem as people weigh the pros and cons of getting a flu shot. Here are some key questions about the flu shot and why flu vaccinations are important.
There were so few cases of flu last year. Should I get a flu shot this year?
The 2020-2021 flu season saw an unusually low number of cases. Experts believe the low flu activity was driven by two factors:
- COVID-19 prevention measures that were in place. These include face masks, handwashing, social distancing, remote work and learning, and significantly reduced travel.
- An increase in the number of people getting the flu vaccine.
While these results are good news, that does not mean the 2021-2022 flu season will also be mild. In fact, we could be more vulnerable to catching the flu this season than in prior years for several reasons:
- The unusually low number of flu cases last season means fewer people have natural immunity to strains that are active this season.
- Most areas of the country now have relaxed COVID-19 prevention measures (such as masking and social distancing) that helped protect us from the flu last season.
- Schools are reopened for in-person learning and people are returning to the office.
- Travel is increasing sharply compared to 2020.
- More people are attending large events like concerts, sporting events, and conferences.
I got the COVID-19 vaccine. Should I get a flu shot too?
Yes. Although both viruses share many of the same symptoms, the COVID-19 vaccine does not protect you against the flu and the flu shot will not protect you against COVID-19. Both vaccines are important. In fact experts predict that as flu viruses return and Delta variants circulate, there is potential for an increase in both flu and Covid-19 cases.
I need to space out my COVID-19 vaccination/booster and my flu shot, so I am going to delay my flu shot.
The CDC says it is safe to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or booster and the flu shot on the same day. The CDC web site shows who is eligible for COVID-19 booster shots based on approvals for the different manufacturers. If you schedule both shots on the same day, expect to receive each vaccine in a different arm to help reduce any tenderness that may occur.
Is the flu shot effective? I had the flu shot a few years ago and still got sick.
The effectiveness of flu vaccines can vary from season to season. Vaccines work by teaching your body to recognize a virus and defend against it.
According to the CDC, two of the most important factors in determining how well the vaccine works are:
- Age and general health of the person being vaccinated. Past studies have shown the vaccine is typically 50% to 60% effective for healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 65.
- How well the vaccines match the type of flu viruses spreading in the community. All flu vaccines in the United States are “quadrivalent” vaccines that protect against four different flu viruses: H1N1, H3N2, and two influenza B viruses. While the vaccine we have in the U.S. protects against the most common type of flu viruses, other influenza viruses can also spread and cause infection.
If the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, then what are the benefits of getting a flu shot?
Most people who receive the vaccine will not contract the flu at all. And for those for whom the vaccine does not completely prevent the flu, it has been shown to reduce the severity of flu related symptoms, complications, hospitalizations, and death. A 2021 study showed the flu vaccination was linked to a 26% lower risk of ICU admissions and a 31% lower risk of death from flu when compared to unvaccinated patients.
I am healthy and I never get the flu. Should I get a flu shot?
Yes. One important reason to get a flu shot is to protect those in your family, workplace, community or surroundings who are at high risk for flu related complications, hospitalizations, and even death.
These groups are considered to be at high risk for flu complications:
- Children under 5, especially those under 2 years old
- Babies under 6 months of age
- Pregnant women and those who have recently given birth
- Adults over age 65
- People with chronic health conditions
Will the flu shot make me feel sick?
The flu vaccine is made up of inactivated viruses, so the flu shot cannot give you the flu. It is possible to have mild flu shot side effects that can last for one to two days, such as low grade fever, headache, and sore muscles.
I haven’t heard of many cases in my area, so I do not need a flu shot right now.
While it is never too late the get the flu shot, the CDC says the best time to get a flu shot is by the end of October. Your body takes about two weeks to develop antibodies that protect against flu, so do not wait until flu cases spike in your community.
I do not have time to schedule a flu shot.
The flu shot is widely available. You can receive it from your primary care doctor, retail health clinics, pharmacies, and urgent care centers. Most pharmacies accept walk-ins and most insurance. Visit my-flu-shot.com to find pharmacies offering flu shots this year. If you are seeking vaccines for a child, check to see what ages the pharmacy is certified to vaccinate.
And, if you have insurance, the shot will likely cost you nothing. Most health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover the flu shot at 100% under preventive care. Use the Sydney Health app or the Find Care tool to locate an in-network facility near you. No-cost transportation may also be available for members in select Medicaid and Medicare plans. If you do not have transportation through your health plan and need help finding a ride, you can visit 211.org or coordinate transportation through my-flu-shot.com.
Your annual flu shot offers the best protection against the virus, reduces the severity of flu related complications, and protects those around you who are at high risk. Now is the time to get a flu shot.