National Influenza Vaccination Week December 5-11

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News Release
 
For Immediate Release: 12/6/2021
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CONTACT
Barb Tyler, Office of Communications, (402) 471-3486,
barb.tyler@nebraska.gov

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LINCOLN, Neb. – It is not too late to receive the yearly flu vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) established National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) in 2005 to highlight the importance of continuing this vaccination through the holiday season and beyond.  

While most of the flu activity peaks between December and February, significant activity can last as late as May. It takes about two weeks after receiving the vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against this virus infection, and so it is best to get vaccinated before influenza viruses start to spread in the community. The flu shot offers protection against the flu for at least six months. 

Healthcare professionals usually vaccinate most people in October, as this is when flu activity typically begins to increase; this immunity will last until the following April. Previous flu vaccination coverage data have shown that few people get this vaccination after the end of November, but as long as flu viruses are spreading and causing illness, vaccination should continue in order to protect as many people as possible. 

Getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial during most seasons for people who have put it off. Even if someone has already had with flu, there are still benefits from vaccination. There are many different flu viruses spread during the season, and most flu vaccine can protect against four different flu strains. Anyone who gets flu can pass it to someone who is at high risk for severe illness, including children younger than 6 months as they are too young to get a flu vaccine. It is biologically impossible to get the flu from the vaccine as it does not contain a live virus.  

Despite the many benefits offered by a flu vaccination, only about half of Americans get this annual vaccination. Flu continues to cause millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths. The flu viruses change constantly so flu vaccines are updated each season for protection. The vaccine and natural immunity also lessens over time, which is why this is an annual vaccination. Many more people could be protected from flu if more people get vaccinated. 

During the national 2019-2020 season, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 7.5 million influenza illnesses, 3.7 million influenza-associated medical visits,105,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 6,300 influenza-associated deaths. It has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu at least by 40%. 

A 2018 study showed that among adults hospitalized with flu, vaccinated patients were 59% less likely to be admitted to the ICU than those who had not been vaccinated. Among adults in the ICU with flu, vaccinated patients spent on average four fewer days in the hospital than those who were not vaccinated. 

Getting vaccinated may also protect others, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions. Flu vaccine can be lifesaving in children; a 2017 study was the first of its kind to show that flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child's risk of dying from flu. 

Last year during the flu season, the U.S. saw record low numbers of influenza illnesses. Between October 3, 2020 and July 24, 2021, the CDC saw only 2,136 positive flu tests out of 1.3 million specimens tested by clinical laboratories, according to official data provided to The Journal of the American Medical Association.  Meanwhile, COVID-19 continued to tear its way through the U.S. during the same time frame. There were 27.1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., and more than 401,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. But the outcome may be a little different this year as global traffic returns and most schools have re-opened. This flu season is expected to be more severe, so remembering to use mitigation tools like handwashing will be crucial. 

COVID-19 and the flu share many overlapping characteristics, as they're both primarily respiratory illnesses, and have some common symptoms, modes of transmission, and prevention techniques. As with many respiratory illnesses, both COVID-19 and the flu spread mainly from person-to-person by infected respiratory particles. Both viruses also have the potential to spread by touching another person or object that has the virus on it. 

Although spread is more common when a person is already sick and showing symptoms, both viruses are capable of asymptomatic spread (when someone is infected but doesn't show symptoms), by pre-symptomatic spread (before a sick person begins to show symptoms), and in people only showing very mild symptoms. 

Though COVID-19 and the flu can both lead to cases of pneumonia, respiratory failure, and even acute respiratory distress syndrome, COVID-19 can affect the body's other organ systems more than the flu. On the whole, COVID-19 is much more deadly than the flu, and is more likely to result in severe illness and hospitalization. The CDC notes that secondary bacterial infections, like sinus and ear infections, from the flu are more common.  

The World Health Organization says that there are an estimated one billion cases of flu each year, and up to 650,000 influenza-related deaths each year. The CDC says the estimated annual burden of the flu in the U.S. is between nine million-41 million illnesses, and accounts for approximately 12,000–52,000 deaths each year, compared to over 750,000 deaths from COVID-19 in just the past year.  

The flu can be treated with prescription medications (antiviral drugs), and these medications work best when they're started soon after flu symptoms appear, usually within two days. Not everyone needs antiviral drugs for the flu; most people who are healthy and not at risk for complications can likely treat flu with the typical home remedies (sleep, fluids, fever-reducers). However, those who have severe illness but don't need hospitalization, or people with mild illness who are at high risk for complications may benefit from antiviral medications, according to the CDC.

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