What will the 2021-2022 flu season look like?

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Worried about getting the flu shot alongside a COVID booster? According to some experts, there’s nothing to worry about.

The CDC said COVID vaccines can be given with other routine vaccinations, including the flu shot. They also said people do not have to wait in between the shots. COVID vaccines can be given the same day as other vaccinations.

“You could get both vaccines simultaneously, or if you’re worried about local effects or side effects—local effects or low-grade fever are common with both vaccines—then you could split them up by a week or two,” said Dr. Arthur Gran, an infectious disease specialist with Samaritan Hospitals.

Because it’s recommended people get the flu shot in early fall—like September or October—getting both inoculations at once may not be an issue, either. Many will have to wait for another two to three months before they are eligible to get a COVID booster. Experts are recommending a booster for people eight months after getting fully vaccinated which would make a large portion of people eligible for a booster sometime between November and December.

Children can also get the COVID vaccine with their routine immunizations as well. “A COVID-19 vaccine could be authorized for ages 5 to 11 as soon as September or October. So right around the time your child gets their annual flu shot, they could become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. If that happens, they won’t need to wait between vaccines,” reads a post from Dr. Juan C. Salazar, a pediatrician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

What will the 2021-2022 flu season look like? It’s still too early to tell, said Dr. Gran. The U.S. usually looks to the southern hemisphere to try to get a glimpse of the upcoming flu season. He said that, so far, cases in Australia have been low. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the same will hold true for the U.S.

Last year, cases of flu in the U.S. were minute compared to the previous three flu seasons. In the 2020 to 2021 flu season, the rate of infection was .2%. That season, 1,675 out of 818,939 people tested were positive for the flu. Averaging the three previous flu seasons—from 2017 to 2020—the CDC clocked an infection rate between 26.2% and 30.3%.

“An average flu season—when flu season peaks—the clinical labs that report to the CDC [reported on average] about 20,000 cases a week during the height of flu season. Last year, there were maybe 150. It was considerably lower than it was the previous year, and that presumably is because of public health [initiatives] to try and contain COVID,” Dr. Gran said.

How effective will this year’s flu shot be? That is also difficult sometimes to forecast, Dr. Gran said. Through research, scientists are able to predict roughly which flu virus will be the most prevalent, but it’s not always completely accurate.

Like COVID vaccines, flu shots take about two weeks before a person builds antibodies. It’s why experts recommend people get the shot early in the fall, well in advance of flu season, which generally starts in December.

Most flu vaccines in the U.S. offer protection against four strains: influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and two influenza B viruses, the CDC said. Flu shots work similarly to COVID vaccines by helping the body recognize the virus in order to produce an immune response. Just like breakthrough cases of COVID occur in vaccinated people, flu variants can also cause people who have gotten their seasonal shot to get sick.

As COVID vaccines keep a high majority of people with breakthrough cases out of the hospital, Dr. Gran said the same is true of flu shots. Even if there is a strain outside of what’s included in the vaccine, the shot will still protect a majority of people from serious illness if they become infected.

Season to season changes in the flu virus are also the reason why the CDC said it’s important to get one before each flu season:

A flu vaccine is needed every season for two reasons. First, a person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Second, because flu viruses are constantly changing, flu vaccines may be updated from one season to the next to protect against the viruses that research suggests may be most common during the upcoming flu season. For the best protection, everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated annually.

CDC

“There’s evidence to support that even if it does not prevent you from getting the flu, it can prevent you from having a severe case of the flu. And we see that with the COVID vaccination as well,” said Dr. Gran.

Is it a good idea to wear a face mask in order to prevent a flu infection? The CDC doesn’t recommend it but Dr. Gran said there is much more research that supports the use of a mask can prevent flu transmission, as it’s been studied over a longer period than COVID.

What if someone had to choose between the flu shot or the COVID vaccine? Dr. Gran said the more imminent danger is COVID: “COVID-19 is the more transmissible disease. It is the more dangerous disease. It’s more important to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than it is to be vaccinated against the flu, if you had to choose one.”

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