How Bad Will Flu Season Be This Year?

Here it comes again: Flu season!

After more than two years of being on guard against COVID, it’s time to brace yourself for flu season. According to a report by AARP, the past two flu seasons have been milder than usual, with low numbers of cases and few hospitalizations and deaths. Experts attribute the decline to COVID-19 precautions such as wearing face masks and social distancing.

“Now that people are out and about without masks, there are more opportunities for the [flu] virus to circulate,” says William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Another problem? Americans have less natural immunity to influenza because so few people were infected in 2020 and 2021.

The AARP article states that in typical years, “a good percentage of the population gets infected with influenza, and their immunity after infection lasts longer than what we get from vaccination.” After a couple of years with much fewer infections, more people may be susceptible to influenza in this coming season.

Schedule your flu shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting your flu shot in September or October. “Ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October,” the agency says. (But it’s better to get it late than not at all.)

“You need to be vaccinated one month before influenza comes, because it takes about a month to get the antibodies you want for protection,” says Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.