As California prepares for a severe flu season, doctors urge injections – with or without a COVID booster

It’s more critical than ever to get a flu shot this year, say Bay Area infectious disease experts. More than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have created conditions – including lower flu vaccination rates and less natural immunity than during the pre-pandemic period – that could make the next flu season one of of the worst in recent years.

Flu vaccination rates in California and across the country have dropped for the 2020 to 2021 flu season compared to 2019 to 2020, which experts attribute in part to COVID lockdowns or many people delaying non-emergency medical visits, including certain vaccinations. Meanwhile, widespread COVID masking, which was mandatory in most Bay Area public spaces in 2020 and most of 2021, has reduced overall flu transmission levels — meaning fewer people now have recent natural immunity.

“For the past two years, there hasn’t been a lot of flu,” said Dr. Jeffrey Silvers, medical director of pharmacy and infection control at Sutter Health. “Last season we had some, but we can anticipate that there is a real possibility that we will have a significant flu season this year and that it will be larger than what we are used to.”

Take home message from Silvers: “People should get vaccinated this year. It’s very important and I would say it’s more important than in the past few years to be prepared.

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