The country saw a very mild flu season last year “largely because people were doing all the things we were doing to prevent transmission of covid-19 — masking, social distancing, staying at home,” said Thomas Lawrence Holland, an infectious-disease expert at Duke University School of Medicine.
But with about 170 million people fully vaccinated against covid-19 and many trying to reclaim some sense of normalcy, Holland said the flu is expected to make a comeback this year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual flu shots for those 6 months and older, especially essential workers, people who are at increased risk for complications from the flu, and those who are at increased risk for severe illness from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
In addition to vaccination, testing sick patients for both influenza and covid-19 will also be important as the symptoms for both diseases — fever, chills, body aches — can closely resemble one another, although possible treatments are very different.
Holland said it is possible to get covid-19 and the flu, either back-to-back or at the same time.
So to answer your next potential question: Yes, you can get the vaccines for both diseases at the same time. The CDC says that the coronavirus vaccine can be administered along with other vaccines “without regard to timing.” And, at some point in the future, you may be able to get a messenger RNA coronavirus vaccine combined with a flu vaccine. At least one vaccine manufacturer, Moderna, has plans for it.
Holland said the severity of the flu season will depend at least partly on the decisions people make both in terms of getting their flu shots and taking additional precautions, such as mask-wearing and social distancing, once the time arrives.
“We have some say over the flu season,” he said.
— Lindsey Bever