‘Earlier,’ and ‘more severe’: Health experts forecast flu season

“COVID has changed the flu pattern to a degree,” says Sree Chaguturu, CVS Health® executive vice president and chief medical officer. At the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 protections like masks and social distancing reduced the number of flu cases, he says. But as people are interacting more, flu cases are rising.

“We expect the flu season to be starting a little earlier this year and to be a bit more severe in terms of the number of cases that we historically see,” says Sree.

Protecting good health

That’s why the flu shot — as well as the updated COVID-19 booster and other seasonal vaccines — are critical to good health.

“Millions of people get the flu every year. Hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized; tens of thousands of people die,” Sree says. “The flu shot is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family. It has been shown to reduce flu-related illness and the risk of those serious flu complications.”

An annual flu vaccination is recommended for most people 6 months and older, especially essential workers, individuals 65 or older, immunocompromised individuals and those with chronic medical conditions, he says.

Remember that it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to build up immunity in the body, Sree adds. “Getting vaccinated early in the fall, ideally before the end of October, ensures that as flu season starts to ramp up, you’ve built up the protection.”

COVID-19 boosters and additional vaccines

In hopes of similarly heading off a fall surge of COVID-19 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends bivalent vaccine boosters that also target the newer omicron subvariants. But success in reducing the number of COVID-19 cases this fall and winter will depend on how many people get vaccinated.

While flu shots don’t protect you from COVID-19 — and COVID-19 vaccines don’t protect against flu — it’s easy, and recommended, to get both. “Patients can get the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine at the same time. At CVS Pharmacy, patients can schedule both vaccines during the same appointment,” Sree says.

Currently, the updated Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster is authorized for people 12 and up while Moderna’s is authorized for those 18 and older, according to the CDC. Local CVS pharmacists, or your physician, can help you determine eligibility as well, Sree says.

Linda Molaka, CVS Pharmacy® manager in Pembroke Pines, Florida, encourages her eligible patients to get boosted. “It’s always good to have the most protection that we can have — that’s what the vaccines are for, to help prevent hospitalizations or serious complications, ” she says.

She can also provide other vaccinations — pneumonia, shingles, HPV, meningitis — and help customers determine which they might need. “Pharmacists are well versed in knowing what patients would need certain vaccines,” she says. “So, I’m definitely one of your great resources.”

With the CVS Health Dashboard, patients can also track the vaccinations they receive, which may be especially helpful for younger Americans. A new national Harris Poll commissioned by CVS Health shows that younger Americans are losing track of their vaccinations: Nearly 1 in 3 Gen Z and young millennials say they don’t know when they are due for additional vaccinations — and aren’t sure where to find their vaccination records.

Making vaccinations convenient

To help people stay up to date, CVS Pharmacy and MinuteClinic® locations offer flu shots, COVID-19 shots and boosters and many other vaccinations every day, including evenings and weekends.

“Eighty-five percent of people live within 10 miles of a CVS Pharmacy, and we have more than 9,000 locations nationwide, so it’s definitely more convenient than the typical 9-to-5 doctor’s office,” Linda says. “We’re all there — MinuteClinic providers, CVS pharmacists — every day, every night, every weekend, for our community.”

Recent Harris Poll data also shows that over half of parents with children under 6 find the entire vaccine process stressful. That’s why CVS Health enables patients to make vaccination appointments at CVS.com, through the CVS app or by walking into any MinuteClinic.

Families can also make group vaccination appointments for up to four individuals online.

“We’re trying to make this as convenient as possible,” Sree says. “Our digital scheduler offers flexibility and the ability to schedule multiple patients at once, so that families or groups can be vaccinated together.”

So far, the new group appointments are a hit, says Linda. “Parents really like it because they’re kind of an example to the kids — look, Mommy and Daddy are going to get it, too,” she says. “Everybody comes in and everybody leaves happy. It’s much easier.”

Louann, who scheduled her family’s flu shots online, agrees. “It’s really convenient to be able to bring the whole family there and get vaccinated at the same time, rather than having to bring the kids to the doctor separately.”

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