Doctors say now is time to get flu shot

Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 7:25 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - As the calendar turns to fall, it means flu season is almost here with most flu activity starting in the U.S. in October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention.

Pharmacies and medical providers across western Wisconsin are already offering this year’s flu shot.

Doctors are predicting a more severe flu season than the past couple of years. As society shifts away from COVID-19 prevention measures, which also work for the flu, doctors feel the flu shot could be even more valuable.

“It’s important that people remember that influenza is still a serious illness. I know the last couple years we’ve been dealing with COVID, which is also a serious respiratory illness, but flu did not go away. We still have flu,” said Allison Gosbin, a public health nurse at the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

Prevea Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ken Johnson said people should be booking their flu shot appointment as soon as possible since the upcoming season could be the worst in recent years.

“We’ve had very light flu seasons the last two years so there’s a little bit less natural immunity out there circulating,” he said. “The influenza vaccine rates the last two years have been a little bit lower, which as also contributed to a little bit less immunity.”

Johnson said even if someone got the flu shot last year, the virus strains has likely changed so that shot is unlikely to work for the flu strains that will be common this upcoming season.

“If you have a vaccine this year that works for this year’s virus, it might not work for next year’s virus because it would have mutated in the mean time,” he said.

While nobody knows for sure what this upcoming flu season dominant strains will look like, Johnson said scientists use clues from other parts of the world, like Australia, to develop the new vaccine, which typically is geared towards four potential strains.

“When they make up the four antigens that are going to go into the vaccine, there’s a certain amount of educated guess work,” he said. “They look at what’s prevalent out there, what was prevalent out there last year, what’s going on and they try to predict what it’s going to be.”

The CDC said last flu season, which doctors considered mild, vaccination reduced the likelihood of someone being admitted to the ICU by an estimated 26 percent. It reduced the likelihood of death by 31 percent.

Johnson said it’s safe to get the COVID-19 booster at the same time as the flu shot.