The flu burden
Influenza (Flu) is a common but deadly seasonal illness. Each year, the flu results in over 12,000 deaths and 140,000 hospitalizations. The elderly population and those with chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, are at the highest risk of suffering from severe flu cases. The worst flu season over the last decade was during 2017 – 2018, which resulted in approximately 61,000 deaths and 810,000 hospitalizations. During the 2020 – 2021 season, flu activity was much lower compared to the previous years, which may be due to two main reasons: 1) More people were vaccinated during the past season (55% as of February 2021) compared to the previous season (48% as of May 2020), and 2) COVID-19 preventive measures of wearing face masks, limiting public events, maintaining social distance, and frequent hand washing.
Thus, everyday preventive actions and flu vaccinations are crucial for reducing the flu’s death toll and healthcare burden.
Why get the flu vaccine every year?
We already know that an annual flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your chance of getting the flu. Below are some facts to explain why yearly flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone.
- Flu is caused by two main types of influenza virus: Type A & B. These viruses change constantly, and thus, the vaccines need to be updated each year to cover the current seasonal strains.
- You might have heard your doctor say, “It’s time for your Tdap booster shot.” This is because protection from all vaccines, including the flu, declines over time. So, think of the annual flu vaccine as your yearly “flu booster.”
- Being vaccinated for the flu reduces your risk of having to go to the doctor by 40 – 60%.
- Studies have shown that flu vaccines reduce the risk of flu hospitalizations among older adults and pregnant women by 40% and reduce children’s admission into intensive care by 74%.
- Even if a vaccinated person gets sick, their chance of severe illness is reduced – vaccinated people are 59% less likely to be admitted for intensive care. Vaccinated people also spend an average of 4 fewer days in the hospital compared to unvaccinated people.
- Getting vaccinated not only protects you but also protects the people around you since the chance of you passing the flu onto someone else is reduced.
Why is it especially important to get the flu vaccine this year?
The symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 are very similar, including fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle pain, headaches, and fatigue. The main differences between the two are the dry cough, change in smell or taste, and skin changes seen in COVID-19 cases. There have been reports of co-infection with COVID-19 and influenza from several different countries to complicate things further. One study from England found that patients with a coinfection had 5.92 times higher risk of death. This is another reason why flu vaccination this year is particularly important for everyone. Even though the flu vaccine will not provide protection against COVID-19, it will reduce the chances of co-infection. Additionally, as COVID vaccines are currently only available for 12 years old and above, vaccinating young children for the flu should be suggested, as children as young as 6 months can receive the flu vaccine.
According to last year’s data, Coronavirus has the potential to infect 60% of the population, is associated with 20% of patients requiring hospitalization, and 5% of patients requiring critical care. Just over the past seven days, there has been a 39.13% increase in new hospital admissions in Erie County. If this pattern continues, the healthcare system may be overloaded during the flu season, given that the flu results in thousands of hospitalizations. This makes the flu vaccination even more critical this year, as getting the flu vaccine can reduce your chance of being hospitalized (just during the 2019 – 2020 season, flu vaccinations prevented up to 105,000 hospitalizations).
Even with the strict lock-down guidelines last year, hospitals struggled with supply shortages because COVID-19 cases resulted in several thousands of hospitalizations. With this year’s COVID-19 cases still rising and with social distancing and masking regulations becoming more relaxed than the 2020 season, it is more important than ever to get your yearly flu vaccine to protect yourself and your loved ones.
The blog article was written by Kumari Biswass, PharmD candidate at the LECOM School of Pharmacy, Erie, PA. LECOM Health and The LECOM Institute for Successful Aging is committed to enhancing wellness for seniors and is hosting over 50 public flu vaccination clinics in the Erie, PA region this season. LECOM Health offers a full continuum of care that includes our Parkside Independent Living Communities and Personal Care apartments, Skilled Nursing Care, and Outpatient Services, including In-Home Care, Home Health, and Hospice. Visit LECOMisAging.com or call 814-868-3883 to learn more.
- Centers for disease control and prevention. Influenza flu. Available at:
- Centers for disease control and prevention. COVID-19 Integrated County View. Available at: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view
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