Anyone can get the flu, no matter how healthy they are. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all people (with some exceptions) ages 6 months and older get a flu shot to protect themselves and others from the flu.
When is Flu Season?
A contagious respiratory illness that strikes the U.S. beginning in October and lasts through May, the flu usually peaks from December through February. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the flu has resulted in between 9 and 41 million illnesses, 140,000-710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000-52,000 deaths annually between 2010 and 2020.
No one knows for sure how to accurately predict how dangerous the newest flu season will be. And that goes for this year’s 2022-2023 flu season.
How Bad Will This Flu Season Be?
The 2021-22 influenza season was mild, and in 2020-21 it was nearly non-existent (possibly because of precautions adopted in the fight against COVID-19). But 2022 could be different given that people are less likely to wear masks and practice distancing. Health experts often look to in the Southern Hemisphere for clues.
While not foolproof, the type of flu season Australia experiences during its winter season could be a sign for what is to come here in the United States.
Australian winter runs from June through August, and according to the country’s Department of Health and Aged Care it is nearing the end of its worst flu season in five years.
“Increased flu vaccination for both adults and children could help reduce the risk of a more severe flu season,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Health.
Get Your Flu Shot Now
Ideally, the CDC recommends that everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October since the flu can begin in earnest at any time and it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to build up antibodies to protect you from the flu.
“But it is never too late to get the flu shot to protect yourself throughout the long flu season,” said Dr. Paez.
The CDC notes flu shots are appropriate for most people, with rare exceptions for children younger than 6 months of age and those with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in the flu vaccine or who have had a previous severe allergic reaction to a dose of flu vaccine.
WHO SHOULD NOT GET A FLU VACCINE?
People who should not get the flu vaccine include children younger than 6 months and those with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine and any of its ingredients. Ask your doctor if you’re not sure if you should be vaccinated.
HIGH-DOSE VACCINE FOR SENIORS
For people younger than 65 years, CDC does not recommend any specific licensed, age-appropriate influenza (flu) vaccine over another during the 2022-2023 flu season. Options for this age group include inactivated influenza vaccine [IIV], recombinant influenza vaccine [RIV], or live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), with no preference for any flu vaccine over another.
For people 65 years and older, there are three flu vaccines that are preferentially recommended over standard-dose, unadjuvanted flu vaccines. These are Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine, Flublok Quadrivalent recombinant flu vaccine and Fluad Quadrivalent adjuvanted flu vaccine.
All flu vaccines for the 2022-2023 season are quadrivalent vaccines, designed to protect against four different flu viruses, including two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. Different vaccines are licensed for use in different age groups, and some vaccines are not recommended for some groups of people.
Learn more about flu vaccines for people 65 years and older.
Who is at Highest Risk of Flu Complications?
Pregnant women and adults with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease and stroke, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes, as well as adults 65 years and older who are at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu should get the vaccine as soon as possible.
Yet another concern, according to Dr. Paez, “If you have a weakened immune system after contracting COVID-19, it can leave you at risk for getting a more severe case of the flu, or vice versa.”
And a flu outbreak can be devastating for children.
KIDS AND THE FLU
"Influenza has always been a significant illness in children. Kids under 5, kids with asthma, children with serious underlying pulmonary, cardiac, neurologic, or immune system illnesses are at particular risk for a serious influenza infection. During the 2019-2020 Influenza season, 199 children died of the flu, so we need to protect our kids from this deadly disease," said Dr. John O'Reilly, chief of General Pediatrics at Baystate Children's Hospital.
The lack of a significant flu season last year means that many of our kids under 2 were not exposed to the flu and did not develop any natural antibodies.
"That means children under 2 are at particular risk for serious influenza this year. We need to protect our most vulnerable children by getting them vaccinated against the flu as soon as possible," said Dr. O’Reilly.
Some Children Need Two Doses
Children between 6 months and 8 years of age who have never received at least two doses of flu vaccine at any point in their lives (not necessarily during the same flu season) need two doses of flu vaccine – given at least four weeks apart – to be fully protected from flu.
"That means you should call your pediatrician’s office today because you want to build up their immune system protection before influenza starts hitting our community hard," said Dr. O’Reilly.
Although most COVID-19 infections in children are mild, Dr. O’Reilly is concerned about kids who might get COVID and influenza infections back-to-back.
"Both of these infections can cause inflammation and damage in the lungs. If a child has a COVID infection followed quickly by catching influenza, the likelihood of a more severe and damaging infection is greater," he said.
To prevent the possibility of a severe infection, Dr. O’Reilly recommends that parents get their children vaccinated against COVID as soon as they are eligible and get them a flu shot as soon as possible. Flu shots can be given at the same time as other vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.
WHERE TO GET A FLU SHOT
Learn more and make a plan to get your flu vaccine today.