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Although the US remains focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, we also need to be aware of the flu season as winter approaches. Influenza (flu) viruses generally spread in the fall and winter, and their activity peaks between December and February. Getting vaccinated now can lower your chances of getting the flu.
Influenza is a serious illness, caused by influenza viruses, that can lead to hospitalization and even death. Each flu season is different, and the substantial health impacts can vary widely from season to season, with some flu seasons being worse than others. Your best defense is the vaccine, which provides protection against the flu and its possible complications.
Flu vaccines are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent flu, and offer significant benefits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that during the 2019-20 flu season:
- 38 million people became ill with influenza.
- 18 million people saw a health care provider for the flu.
- 400,000 people were hospitalized for influenza.
- 22,000 people died of influenza.
The vaccine prevented more than 7 million flu illnesses, 105,000 hospitalizations and 6,300 flu-related deaths, according to the CDC.
COVID-19 and the flu
Flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 are likely to circulate together this fall and winter. The flu vaccine does not prevent COVID-19. The FDA has approved a vaccine for the prevention of COVID-19 and has issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA).
Meanwhile, influenza vaccines are approved by the FDA for the prevention of influenza illness and to protect against four different strains of influenza viruses. Getting vaccinated to prevent this disease can help you avoid a doctor visit and preserve health care resources for patients with other diseases and medical conditions, including COVID-19.
The FDA plays a key role in ensuring that safe and effective flu vaccines are available each flu season. Influenza viruses are spread by droplets when people infected with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. The flu can also be spread when a person touches a surface or object that has the influenza virus on it and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes.
CDC recommends that adults and children older than 6 months get a flu shot in late October. Even if you wait until after October, get a flu shot. It is still beneficial because it can protect you for the rest of the flu season. For more information on flu vaccine recommendations, visit this CDC page .
If you already had the flu this season and were not vaccinated, getting a flu shot is still important because it helps prevent illness caused by four different strains of the influenza virus. You have probably been infected with a type of strain of the flu virus. The vaccine will still offer you protection against the other strains that you have not yet had.
A flu shot is the best prevention
Flu seasons and their severity are unpredictable. Annual vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza in people 6 months and older.
An annual flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of getting the flu and passing it on to other people. The more people vaccinated, the less likely it is that flu viruses will spread in a community.
Typically, the vaccine changes each year and contains the four strains of the flu virus that are expected to circulate in the US during the next flu season. The effectiveness of influenza vaccines depends on several factors, such as the age and health of the person receiving the vaccine, the types of influenza viruses in circulation, and the degree of similarity between the circulating viruses and those included in the vaccine. the vaccine.
The task of producing a new vaccine for the next flu season begins long before the current season ends. For the FDA, it is a year-round initiative.
The flu vaccine will activate your immune system to produce antibodies that can protect you against flu disease; But it won’t make you sick with the flu. It can take up to two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body, which is an important reason to get a flu shot early, before flu activity begins.
Why We Need New Flu Vaccines Every Year
There are several reasons why a new flu vaccine should be made each year.
Influenza viruses can change from year to year, so the vaccine is updated to protect against new strains of the virus expected to circulate in the United States. The vaccine should include the strains of the flu virus that are closest to those in circulation for the flu season. Also, the protection provided by the flu vaccine that a person received the previous year will decrease over time and may be too low to prevent flu illness in the next year’s flu season.
Who is most at risk of getting the flu
Children and older people are generally at higher risk of getting the flu. The best way to protect babies who are too young to be vaccinated is to make sure that the people around them are vaccinated. Occasionally, an influenza virus will circulate that disproportionately affects young and middle-aged adults.
You can also reduce the spread of the flu and its effects by taking practical steps such as washing your hands, covering your coughs and sneezes, and staying home when you are sick.
The FDA has approved numerous vaccines for the prevention of influenza. But if you do get the flu, there are also FDA-approved antiviral drugs available by prescription to treat your illness. There are several FDA-approved antiviral medications recommended by the CDC for use against circulating influenza viruses. These drugs work best if they are started shortly after the onset of symptoms (within 48 hours).
The flu shot is safe
To ensure that the influenza vaccine is safe, effective, and of high quality, the FDA prepares and supplies manufacturers with the reagents (materials to standardize vaccines) they need to make their vaccine and to verify its identity and potency. The FDA also inspects manufacturing facilities regularly and annually evaluates each manufacturer’s vaccine before it can be approved.
FDA oversight doesn’t end there. Once manufacturers have distributed their vaccines for public use, the FDA and CDC work together to routinely evaluate reports of adverse events after vaccination submitted by vaccine manufacturers, healthcare providers, and individuals. who receive the vaccine (or their parents / guardians) at Vaccine Adverse Event Notification System (VAERS).
There are additional efforts to monitor vaccine safety. The FDA collaborates with private organizations that collect health care data (such as health insurance companies) and other federal agencies (such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Veterans Health Administration, and the CDC) to further evaluate the safety and effectiveness of influenza vaccines and other vaccines that the FDA has approved or licensed for emergency use.
The Biologics Safety and Efficacy Initiative (BEST) is one of the programs the FDA uses to evaluate the safety and efficacy of vaccines under real-world conditions, reflecting patient care and the actual use of influenza vaccine and other vaccines in the United States.
In addition, CDC maintains the Vaccine Safety Data Link (VSD) program that assesses the safety of vaccines in a manner similar to the BEST Initiative. The VSD receives its data from nine integrated healthcare organizations in the US.