Do You Need to Still Get a Flu Shot During the COVID Pandemic?

COVID-19 Pandemic and Flu – Overview 

Healthcare professionals around the world have been concerned about the flu season for the year 2020-2021. It was a time of immense uncertainty as there was a pandemic on the one hand and deadly influenza on the other. While influenza is a minor healthcare concern now (comparatively speaking), it shouldn’t be and over the last decade, the standard flu has resulted in an average of 36,000 deaths each year in the U.S. only. And the numbers may be even higher in other parts of the world. 

Surprisingly, last year’s flu season had an unprecedented low number of cases and deaths. According to data by the CDC, only 2136 clinical specimens were tested positive for the influenza virus between October 2020 and July 2021. Moreover, 748 deaths due to the flu were reported in the U.S. Furthermore, if you look at the statistics from the previous years, an average of 75 to 150 children die as a result of influenza each year during the flu season. However, last year, the number was down to 1.

The Possible Explanation of Unusually Low Rates of Flu Infection 

Woman Sneezing from Flu
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Indeed there was a stark difference in the statistics of last year’s flu season and its predecessor. And when we take a closer look at what could possibly explain the unusually low rates of infection and deaths due to the flu virus, the explanation is quite simple. Between October 2020 and July 2021, COVID-19 infections were increasing tremendously throughout the world, including the U.S. Through the immunization started in December 2020, there were restrictions in place regarding indoor social gatherings, school and workplace reopenings, and reduced travel. 

Hence, most people preferred to stay at home, practiced frequent hand washing, and maintained social distance. And while all these factors contribute to reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, these measures also helped curtail the spread of the influenza virus. In addition, since there was a fear of a twindemic that might possibly result during the flu season, most people preferred to get the flu vaccine in time. In the U.S. only, a record number of 193.8 million doses of influenza vaccine were distributed and administered prior to and during the flu season.   

And while we know the reason why the flu season went expectedly smoothly last year, the critical question still remains about what to expect in this upcoming flu year? With a previous year of very limited cases and deaths associated with influenza, can we expect the same for the upcoming flu season? Do we still have a fear of COVID-19? Are people still wearing masks? How does COVID-19 immunization have a possible impact on the number of flu cases and associated deaths? 

Let’s look at each of the questions and find out more about what to expect in the upcoming flu season. 

What to Expect in the Upcoming Flu Season 2021-2022?

Items on table for people who are sick, flu
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The flu season is around the corner, and with relaxation in travel restrictions, social distancing, and masking, healthcare professionals worldwide are concerned about the upcoming flu season. 

A Flu Season with No Social Distancing and Masks 

The unexpected but pleasantly surprising drop in influenza cases during the COVID-19 pandemic last year proved that many of the social-distancing restrictions were effective. Moreover, wearing a mask, frequent hand washing, and school and workplace closures also contributed to controlling the spread of the influenza virus. And while COVID-19 continued to spread despite these measures, they proved to be exceptionally beneficial in controlling the flu virus. 

But now that the world is opening up again, travel restrictions have been relaxed, and children are going back to school, there will likely be a surge in the cases of flu. Additionally, we can expect a higher need for hospitalization due to the influenza virus and more deaths this year. 

This virus affects around 9% of the global population and between 3% and 11% of the U.S. population each year. Moreover, more than 40% of individuals over the age of 6 months in the U.S. receive flu vaccine coverage on a yearly basis. So while we can expect a better flu season in the US, it is also likely to be the case for the rest of the world. 

For this year’s flu season, the CDC recommended using face masks for all faculty, students, and staff in K-12 schools; however, several states have banned mask mandates given that an increasing number of people have already received COVID-19 immunization in these states. 

According to epidemiologist Benjamin Cowling, from the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health, it is still best to wear a mask to protect yourself and others, especially when visiting crowded areas or public facilities like transportation hubs and vehicles. He also mentioned that immuno-compromised individuals must get the flu vaccine along with wearing a mask during the flu season.

Why Should You Get a Flu Vaccine Even When You Have Already Received COVID-19 Vaccination?

Woma getting flu shot
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Influenza and COVID-19 are both viral respiratory infections that are contagious and can also be life-threatening. The SARS-CoV-1 that causes COVID-19 is a lot more contagious than the flu virus, and hence, you need to take appropriate measures and immunization to control the spread of COVID-19. However, the COVID-19 vaccine is designed to develop immunity against the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, so a separate vaccine specially developed to enhance your immunity against the influenza virus is also needed. 

More specifically, Influenza is a common but potentially dangerous respiratory disease that can lead to hospitalization and may even cause death. Every flu season is different though and the flu virus affects different people differently. Regardless of how it impacts you, the flu affects millions of people worldwide with hundreds and thousands of people who may need hospitalization and some may die. 

The annual flu vaccine offers protection against flu and flu-related complications. This vaccine can help avoid the complication of the flu which include ear infections, bacterial pneumonia, and worsening of chronic health conditions including asthma, diabetes, and heart diseases. Hence it serves an entirely different purpose than the COVID-19 vaccine. Therefore you need to get your annual flu vaccine this year even if you are already vaccinated for COVID-19.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine has NO implications against your risk of getting the flu this season!

Final Words 

Man washing his hands in a sink
Keeping your hands clean with soap or sanitizer is a great way to avoid getting and spreading the COVID and flu viruses, but getting a flu shot is the best means to keep safe! 

Healthcare professionals have several concerns over the upcoming flu season. While there was a surprisingly low number of cases and deaths due to flu last year, this year’s flu season is going to be different. With relaxed travel restrictions, reopening of facilities including workplaces, malls, and schools, and reluctance to wear a mask for many in everyday situations, we can expect a surge in flu cases and associated deaths this year.

But you can change this prediction by getting your annual flu vaccine and taking measures such as wearing a mask and frequent hand washing. Let’s hope for a safer world and a much better flu season this year!