Experts: Upcoming Flu Season Will Be Unprecedented

SPRINGFIELD – As summer wanes and fall is just around the corner, so is the 2020-2021 flu season. 

While experts cannot predict the severity of one flu season from another, this upcoming season will be unprecedented and can pose a severe threat due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The very protection advice we have been stressing for COVID-19 — wearing a mask, frequent hand-washing, social distancing — is what is going to protect many people from the flu this year,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief of Infectious Diseases at Baystate Medical Center.

“But, the best protection of all is to get your flu shot each year,” he added.

According to Dr. Robert Redfield, virologist and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “this could be the worst fall from a public health perspective that we’ve ever had.” Flu season usually begins in the fall around October, but doesn’t peak until December through February. It can sometimes last until May.

His worries along with those of other health officials — there could be a possible widespread “second wave” of COVID-19 coinciding with the flu. That’s why getting your flu shot this year is more important than ever before.

“Having two or more viruses circulating this season including flu and SARSCoV2, the virus behind COVID-19, is troubling,” said Dr. Paez.

During last year’s flu season — which lasted from October through April — there were an estimated 39 million to 56 million reported flu illnesses with from 24,000 to 62,000 deaths in the United States. Because influenza surveillance does not capture all cases of flu that occur in the U.S., CDC provides these estimated ranges to better reflect the larger burden of influenza. 

Already in advance of the onset of the 2019-2020 flu season, the CDC is reminding people to get vaccinated sooner than later, with September and October being good times to get vaccinated.

“It’s important to realize that it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to build up antibodies to protect you from the flu,” said Dr. Paez.

Once again, the CDC recommends all persons ages 6 month and older should be vaccinated against the flu, especially pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions. For the 2020-2021 season, the flu vaccines were updated to better match viruses expected to be circulating in the United States. According to Dr. Paez, the CDC has stated that providers may administer any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine with no preference for any one vaccine over another.

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. While it has been widely promoted over the years that those who are allergic to eggs should not get the flu vaccine, the CDC has relaxed some of its recommendations depending on the severity of your allergy.