Why Is It Important to Get the Flu Vaccine During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Dr. Paul Offit explains why it’s important to get an influenza vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Why is it important to get the flu vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name is Paul Offit. It is December 15th, 2021, and I'm talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Last year was an unusual year. Last year, we didn't see much influenza. The reason was is that we did things that we don't normally do. We wore masks. We socially distanced. We closed schools. We closed businesses. We restricted travel. And so, there wasn't much flu in the United States last year. I mean typically, influenza virus kills 75 to 150 children every year in this country. This past year, only one child died of influenza. It was also true for other respiratory diseases, like respiratory syncytial virus or human metapneumovirus or human coronaviruses, all were dramatically reduced because of the things we did last year.

But that's not going to be true this year. This year, we've already gone back to work, gone back to school, and so what you're already starting to see happen is those respiratory viruses, which are largely winter viruses, are coming back — Influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, human metapneumovirus, human coronaviruses and others. Already at our hospital, we're certainly seeing all those viruses come back.

So, is it important to get an influenza vaccine this year? Of course it is, especially because if you're infected with influenza and you're infected with COVID at the same time, that would be a much worse infection. And again, because these viruses are now circulating in our community, because they can continue to do harm, we need to vaccinate. To give you an example, the year before the influenza, sorry, the year before the COVID pandemic, there were about 400,000 hospitalizations from influenza and about 20,000 deaths. The year before that, there were 700,000 hospitalizations and 60,000 deaths from influenza. So, influenza is a killer. It causes lower respiratory tract disease, meaning pneumonia, which can be fatal. And it's important to get the influenza vaccine every year. Influenza is unusual in that even if you've been naturally infected or immunized the previous year, you still can have serious disease the following year. That's why you need to get an influenza vaccine. And if you're considering getting the influenza vaccine and the COVID vaccine, you can certainly get them at the same time.

Thank you.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Jan 10, 2022