David E. Hogan DO, MPH, FACEP, Vice President of Educational Development and Chair, TeamHealth Emerging Infectious Disease Taskforce
The typical flu season in the Northern Hemisphere begins after Labor Day, and can extend into the early spring of the following year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, masks and social distancing helped keep the circulation of the flu to a minimum, but these protective measures have largely been discontinued by the general public. Although these measures substantially decreased flu circulation last season, our best defense has always been and continues to be, the flu vaccines.
The 2022-2023 Flu Season
In the United States, the influenza season begins in September and peaks between December and March. While this seasonality can vary, there is still plenty of time to get a vaccine before we reach the peak of the season. The CDC recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older without a medical contraindication to vaccines be vaccinated for influenza annually.
A Greater Flu Risk This Year
Over the past two years, the normal seasons for many common respiratory viruses were suppressed due to the masks, social distancing, crowd avoidance, handwashing and other public health measures people practiced for COVID-19. Viruses like influenza are even more susceptible to these preventive measures than the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
However, as we approach the endemic stage of COVID-19, fewer people are using these public health measures – and fewer are remembering to get their influenza vaccine. As a result of these behaviors, we expect a greater risk for the 2022-2023 influenza season in the United States.
Although we attribute the decrease in public health measures in the United States as a primary risk factor for the upcoming season, influenza vaccination coverage is also an important feature. The flu vaccine saves an estimated 7.5 million illnesses, 4 million clinic or ED visits, over 100,000 hospitalizations and 6,500 deaths each year, and that is with only around 50 percent of the population receiving a Flu vaccine.
Flu Vaccines Are Our Best Protection
The solution is simple. The influenza vaccines available this year are safe and effective. Now is the time to get your flu vaccine if you have not already. Go to your healthcare provider, local pharmacy, or department of public health and get your influenza vaccine. Finally, you can get your COVID-19 vaccine or booster at the same time as your influenza vaccine.
Let’s protect one another by getting the flu vaccine before the holiday season.