Health experts urge you to get vaccinated for a 'pretty bad flu season'

·3 min read

Experts are predicting a bad flu season this year. Here's what Rhode Islanders need to know.

What is the basis for the prediction?

Experience in the Southern Hemisphere, which is just now finishing winter. Rates of infection were higher than in previous years in Australia and New Zealand, and this could be a predictor of what awaits the north.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, President Joe Biden's medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said America should prepare for a “pretty bad flu season” that will dovetail with the continuing COVID pandemic.

Rhonda McBurney of Providence gets her flu shot from pharmacist Joe Sayles at the CVS on Hope Street in Providence in September 2020.
Rhonda McBurney of Providence gets her flu shot from pharmacist Joe Sayles at the CVS on Hope Street in Providence in September 2020.

What factors are in play?

Unlike in 2020 and 2021, when the pandemic was particularly punishing and people were taking many precautions, mask-wearing as we head into fall and winter is less common – and residents, including schoolchildren, are back in congregate settings where transmission is more likely. Also, with far fewer flu cases in 2020 and 2021, natural immunity to influenza has waned.

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What steps should RI residents take?

“Rhode Island should learn from this experience and everyone should get their flu shot in September or October,” Rhode Island Medical Society president Dr. Elizabeth B. Lange told The Journal in an email. “Flu vaccines are available at primary care offices (pediatrics, internal medicine, family medicine) and local pharmacies.”

Do benefits of flu shots extend beyond those receiving one?

Yes, according to Anne Brown, an official with CVS, the nation’s largest pharmacy chain, who says “individuals can help protect themselves against seasonal flu, contribute to the overall health of the community and help minimize the impact on health care resources.”

Who should get flu shots?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccination every season with rare exceptions … flu vaccination has important benefits. It can reduce flu illnesses, visits to doctor’s offices and missed work and school due to flu, as well as make symptoms less severe and reduce flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.”

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Who should not?

Children younger than six months, the CDC says, along with “people with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in a flu vaccine (other than egg proteins)” and others, described at www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/whoshouldvax.htm. If in doubt, consult with your health care provider.

How long before full protection is achieved?

"It takes two weeks for your body to build an immune response," according to state Health Department spokesman Joseph Wendelken. "People may experience mild symptoms after getting vaccinated. That is just your body building an immune response."

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Why do I need a shot every year?

"Because flu viruses evolve so quickly, last year's vaccine may not protect you from this year's viruses," according to the Mayo Clinic. "New flu vaccines are released every year to keep up with rapidly adapting flu viruses."

Can flu shots be co-administered with COVID shots?

Yes.

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What is the recent history of flu in Rhode Island?

Influenza season      Adult flu-associated deaths  Inpatient Influenza hospitalizations

2021-2022                3                                            270

2020-2021                0                                            2

2019-2020                20                                          949

2018-2019                39                                          1,032  

2017-2018                60                                          1,390

Source: Rhode Island Department of Health

To learn more about flu, visit https://health.ri.gov/flu/

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: With bad flu season potentially ahead, health experts urge shots