Dr. Paul Offit explains why influenza was virtually non-existent during 2020 and 2021, and why that’s not likely to be the case this year. In fact, because of the low levels of virus during the previous two seasons, it may be a worse than normal year, so it’s especially important to get an influenza vaccine sooner than later. Dr. Offit also provides some context in terms of relative numbers of cases during a typical influenza season compared with the last two flu seasons.
What’s expected during the 2022-2023 flu season?
Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. I'm talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. It is Thursday, December 1st, 2022. When SARS-CoV-2 came into the United States in early 2020, we didn't have anything to stop it. We didn't have monoclonal antibodies. We didn't have vaccines. We didn't have antivirals. All we had was trying to distance ourselves from another person. All we had was trying to decrease human-to-human contact. So that's what we did. We masked. We social distanced. We closed businesses. We closed schools. We restricted travel. That's all we had.
But what happened in 2020 was that we virtually eliminated respiratory viruses. It was amazing. You didn't see influenza circulating. You didn't see respiratory syncytial virus circulating, or the other respiratory viruses because we were so good at keeping ourselves from coming in contact with other people.
Now, last year, 2021, we obviously started to go back more into the world where we weren't masking as much or social distancing. Schools opened, businesses opened, but still the flu was a relatively mild year because of what we were doing. That's not going to be true this year. Already we know that because we're seeing a massive increase in a virus called respiratory syncytial virus, which has overwhelmed many hospitals, maybe in part because of that so-called immunity gap that was created in 2020 where you didn't have the kind of broad population immunity that comes with a circulating virus.
I suspect this could, this 2022-2023, could be a particularly tough year for influenza as we've seen in countries whose winters proceed ours, like Australia or South America. So, I think it is especially important to get an influenza vaccine this year more so really than in any of the previous two years. But it's always important to get an influenza vaccine because influenza circulates every year. Every year, influenza causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations. Every year, influenza causes tens of thousands of deaths, with the exception of that rare 2020 year. So, t's always important to get an influenza vaccine, but I think it's even more important this year, given what we've gone through over the last two years.
Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center
Last Reviewed on Dec 06, 2022