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During the 2020-2021 flu season, COVID-19 restrictions and widespread use of masks, combined with the annual flu shot, led to an unprecedented decline in annual flu cases – and largely helped to prevent a “twindemia” of infections by both viruses.
The situation looks very different this year, as the current flu vaccine appears to be a bad match for the dominant flu strain. “From our lab studies, it looks like a big mismatch,” Scott Hensley, a microbiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, told CNN last month.
The less effective flu shot, combined with lifting lockdowns and mask mandates, could push 2021-2022 back to a more typical flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with millions of Americans getting the flu and tens of thousands dying from it.
The CDC reports that 1,825 people were hospitalized with the flu in the week ending January 1, 2022. That’s about the same number as the infected throughout the 2020-2021 flu season.
Health professionals around the world have started reporting cases of patients who contracted COVID-19 and the flu simultaneously, a phenomenon dubbed “flurona” that can bring additional risks to those with underlying health conditions.
After Israel reported its first flurone case on Jan. 2, an unvaccinated teenager in LA was reported on Jan. 5, by CBS Los Angeles. Since then, additional cases have emerged in Texas, Kansas, Mississippi and North Carolina.
“For generally healthy people, the combination can cause illness that keeps them at home and in bed for a while, feeling really bad,” said Dr. Nancy Gin, vice president and director of quality at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, to the Orange County Register. “For people with high-risk medical conditions such as diabetes or heart or lung disease, the result could be ICU admission and potentially death.”
That’s why getting a flu shot and a COVID shot (and a) is important: According to the Register, incidents of “flurona” have also been reported in Hungary, Brazil, the Philippines and China.
Being infected with both respiratory illnesses at the same time can be “catastrophic for your immune system,” Dr. Adrian Burrowes, professor of family medicine at the University of Central Florida, told CNN in September.
Read on for practical guidance on how to get your flu shot. For more, here’s whatyou can try and why epidemiologists suggest taking both .
What to know about the effectiveness of the flu vaccine this year
Vaccine manufacturers monitor which flu strains are currently circulating and predict which ones are most likely to become dominant during the next flu season. They then produce a vaccine – their flu vaccine – using three or sometimes four of the most likely candidates.
Flu vaccine effectiveness can vary widely – from 19% effectiveness in the 2014-2015 season to 60% in 2010-2011.
Last year, when about half of US adults and children were vaccinated against the flu, the vaccine was 39% effective at preventing infection, according to the CDC. Along with the measures the US has taken to check the spread of COVID-19, the number of flu cases reported during the 2020-2021 season was so low it almost looks like a typo: just 2,038, compared to 38 million. cases reported in 2019-2020 season.
This year, because of this incredibly mild season, vaccine manufacturers had less information to work with. So they created a vaccine containing four likely variants, known as the quadrivalent flu vaccine, to increase the odds of hitting the dominant strain this year.
“There was enough data to make a good guess,” LJ Tan, director of strategy for the Immunization Action Coalition, said in October. Back then, Tan said experts were confident that “we got it right.”
But more recent research suggests they were wrong, as a mutated form of the Influenza A H3N2 variant, called 2a2, has become the dominant strain.
According to the CDC, the majority of flu strains detected this season so far are A(H3N2), mostly occurring in children and young adults aged 5 to 24, however, the proportion of infections among adults aged 25 is increasing. .
In November, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported a rapid increase in the mutated H3N2 strain at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, with 745 laboratory-confirmed cases between October 6 and November 19.
If it’s a bad match, should I worry about getting a flu shot this year?
Absolutely. Experts recommend the flu vaccine for anyone six months and older, and even a poorly adapted vaccine can greatly reduce the severity of the flu in those who are infected: according to the CDC, getting vaccinated against the flu can reduce your risk. of having to go to the medical hospital 40 to 60%.
“Studies have clearly shown that seasonal flu vaccines consistently prevent hospitalizations and deaths, even in years when there are major antigenic incompatibilities,” the authors wrote in the preprint report.
When should I get a flu shot?
The short answer is: now. In the Northern Hemisphere, the flu season usually runs from October to May. But the flu virus is less concerned with timing and more with spreading as wide as possible. This year’s timing may be less predictable, experts warn, given last year’s mild flu season and our changing behavior around the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don’t try to time your flu shot for when the flu will arrive. To be ready, experts recommend, get your photo done as quickly as possible.
“We have a normal time when we expect the flu,” Peter Chin-Hong, a physician and professor in the Division of Infectious Disease Health at the University of California, San Francisco, told CNET. “But this year, it might be unusual or drag on longer, so that’s what people need to be prepared for.”
A similar shift in the timing of a seasonal virus infection happened this summer, when the US and Japan saw an increase in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, infections in school-age children, Chin-Hong said. This is because the students were being educated remotely the previous winter – when RSV infections typically occur – and were not exposed to the virus and did not develop immunity. This allowed the virus to spread in the summer.
Plan to make an appointment to get your flu shot
If you’re used to walking to your local pharmacy, hospital, or doctor’s office to get a flu shot whenever it’s most convenient, you may find that this year you need to schedule an appointment as providers struggle to treat COVID patients, keep distancing protocols and meet the demand for COVID tests and vaccinations.
Walgreens Chief Medical Officer Kevin Ban recommends scheduling COVID-19 and flu shots online.
“We’re doing everything we can to make it easier for people to schedule their appointments and get vaccinated without a problem,” Ban said, adding that you can also call Walgreens’ toll-free number to make an appointment.
Is it safe to get your COVID and flu shots at the same time?
The CDC has confirmed that it is safe to get both a flu shot and a COVID vaccine in the same session. (Vaccine maker Moderna is actually working on a, but that combo will not be available this year.)
And don’t worry about more serious side effects with a four-part flu shot: if the shot uses three or four components, theshould be the same, said Chin-Hong, the UCSF doctor. This includes redness or swelling at the injection site, muscle pain, mild fever, headache, and nausea, which should go away after a few days.
Want more? we unmaskand explain how to know if you have .
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended for medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.