Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Dr. Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to examine the FY 2022 budget request for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 19, 2021 in Washington,DC.
Jim Lo Scalzo | AFP | Getty Images
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention influenza experts are concerned that the United States could be at risk for a severe flu season this year, Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned Wednesday.
That’s because the U.S. population may now have reduced immunity against influenza after seasonal flu cases reached an all-time low last year when large parts of the nation were shut down, Walensky told reporters during a White House press briefing.
During the 2020-2021 flu season, there were very few flu cases, “largely because of masking and physical distancing and other prevention measures put in place for the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.
There were around 2,000 flu cases last influenza season, according to data reported to the CDC. By comparison, the 2019-2020 flu season saw an estimated 35 million cases, according to the agency.
Walensky urged Americans to get shots for both Covid and the flu, saying vaccinations are not just important for ending the pandemic but also preventing other infectious diseases. An increase in flu infections this winter could put an additional burden on the nation’s health-care system, increasing stress on health care workers who are already fighting a high number of hospitalizations due to Covid, she said.
About 69,000 Americans are currently in inpatient beds with Covid, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We continue to see many hospitals and intensive care units across the country at full capacity,” Walensky said. “Each year in the United States, influenza can claim between 12,000 and 52,000 lives and result in 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations.”
She said it is safe and effective to get vaccines for Covid and the flu at the same time.
“We need as many people as possible to be vaccinated for influenza, so that we can provide protection for those who are at most risk, such as adults who are over 65, those of any age who have chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes, and children, especially under five who are at risk of severe complications from the flu,” she said.