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Influenza (Flu) Season 2021–2022: The Continued Importance of Influenza Vaccination During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond

Oct 05, 2021 | Kimberly Sharpe-Scott

Though the timing and duration varies, October often marks the start of influenza (flu) season in the United States, with expected peaks in fall and winter months—primarily December and February. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that is estimated to cause between 9 and 41 million illnesses each year. It is estimated that between 3% to 11% of individuals contract symptomatic flu illness. CDC estimates that flu has resulted in approximately 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 to 52,000 deaths annually between 2010 and 2020.1 According to data from the 2019–20 flu season, vaccination coverage among children 6 months to 17 years was 63.8%, and vaccination coverage among adults ≥18 years was 48.4%.2 Though results indicated that flu vaccination coverage increased from previous seasons for children and adults over the last two years, it is important to note that apparent racial/ethnic disparities persist, which indicate the need for continued work to improve flu vaccine uptake among all Americans.

While flu vaccine effectiveness can vary from season to season, flu vaccines work and provide important protection— vaccination remains the best way to prevent flu illness and associated complications.

The flu vaccine is recommended for all individuals, without contraindications, age six months and older who do not have contraindications. Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for persons who are at increased risk for severe illness and complications from influenza and for influenza-related outpatient, emergency department, or hospital visits. Given the current pandemic, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has issued guidance indicating that influenza vaccines may be safely co-administered with COVID-19 vaccines. Full recommendations regarding timing of vaccination, considerations for specific populations, the use of specific vaccines, and contraindications and precautions were published in the August 2021 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Prevention and Control of Season Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, United States, 2021-22 Influenza Season.3 As the 2021–2022 flu season is expected to coincide with the continued circulation of COVID-19, flu vaccine uptake is key to lessen the strain on the healthcare system and conserve the demand for critically important medical and public health resources.

Local health departments serve as chief health strategists within their communities, providing and linking individuals to essential medical and public health services. As immunization is the most frequently provided service by local health departments across the country,4 it is evident that they are ideally situated to lead the charge in protecting communities from flu. As flu vaccination providers, it is paramount for local health departments to be on the front lines in providing education and outreach, vaccination services, and preparing for an influenza pandemic emergency.

To assist with influenza vaccine planning, services, and communication, view the following resources:

CDC Resources:

Additionally, NACCHO would like to highlight the following resources to further inform local health department influenza vaccine efforts:

  • NACCHO Influenza webpage: The updated page contains pertinent information and resources about flu in general from NACCHO, the CDC, and other partners. All information has been updated to reflect 2021–2022 guidelines and recommendations.
  • School-Located Influenza Vaccination Toolkit: The updated SLIV toolkit has relevant information and practices for conducting mass vaccination clinics. There is also information on mass vaccination clinics in the time of a pandemic, as well as examples from the H1N1 pandemic. Although vaccination is extremely important at this time, community mitigation practices are still recommended. During any vaccination event, PPE, social distancing, and increased sanitizing is recommended.
  • NACCHO National Stakeholder Consultation Meeting — Collaboration to Address Influenza Vaccination Among Older Adults: This report shares highlights from the June 28, 2021 virtual roundtable hosted by NACCHO. The consultation meeting convened public health leaders to discuss key issues around flu vaccination for older adults, and identify the best approaches and strategies to address influenza vaccinations in individuals 65 years of age and older with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza – Disease Burden of Flu. Accessed from: Disease Burden of Flu | CDC
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Vaccination Coverage, United States, 2019-20 Influenza Season. Accessed from: Flu Vaccination Coverage, United States, 2019–20 Influenza Season | FluVaxView | Seasonal Influenza (Flu) | CDC
  3. Grohskopf LA, Alyanak E, Ferdinands JM, et al. Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, United States, 2021–22 Influenza Season. MMWR Recomm Rep 2021;70(No. RR-5):1–28. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.rr7005a1
  4. National Association of County and City Health Officials. 2019 National Profile of Local Health Departments. Accessed from: https://www.naccho.org/uploads/downloadable-resources/Programs/Public-Health-Infrastructure/NACCHO_2019_Profile_final.pdf

About Kimberly Sharpe-Scott

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