‘Earlier’ and ‘harder’: Health experts predict flu season

“Covid has changed the pattern of influenza to some extent,” said Sri Chaguthuru, CVS Health® executive vice president and chief medical officer. Early in the pandemic, protective measures against COVID-19 such as masks and social distancing reduced the number of flu cases, he says. But as people socialize more, flu cases are on the rise.

“We expect the flu season to start a little earlier this year and be a little more severe in terms of the number of cases we’ve seen in the past,” Sree says.

Protection of 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.

“Every year, millions of people get sick with the flu. Hundreds of thousands of people have been hospitalized; tens of thousands of people die,” Sri says. “Getting a 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 these serious flu complications.

An annual flu shot is recommended for most people 6 months and older, especially essential workers, people 65 or older, people with weakened immune systems and those with chronic illnesses, he says.

Remember, it takes about two weeks for the body to build immunity against the flu vaccine, Sri adds. “Getting vaccinated early in the fall, ideally before the end of October, ensures that when flu season kicks into high gear, you’ve built up protection.”

COVID-19 boosters and additional vaccines

Hoping to similarly prevent a fall surge in 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.

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

The updated Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster is currently approved for people 12 and older, while Moderna’s is approved for those 18 and older, according to the CDC. Local CVS pharmacists or your doctor can also help you determine eligibility, Sri says.

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

She can also provide other vaccinations—pneumonia, shingles, HPV, meningitis—and help clients determine which ones they may need. “Pharmacists are very knowledgeable about which patients will 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 can be especially helpful for younger Americans. A new national Harris survey 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 should get vaccinated — and they’re not sure where to get them find their vaccination records.

Make vaccinations convenient

To help people stay up to date, CVS Pharmacy and MinuteClinic® 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 a 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 data from the Harris Poll also shows that more than half of parents with children under 6 find the entire vaccination process stressful. That’s why CVS Health allows patients to schedule vaccination appointments on CVS.com, through the CVS app or by walking into any MinuteClinic.

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

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

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

Luann, 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 instead of having to take the kids to the doctor separately.”

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