MADISON, Wis. – Only about 40% of people in Wisconsin got the influenza vaccine last year.
That is a significant drop compared to the usual 50-55% and that could impact this year’s flu season according to Dr. Jim Conway, medical director, immunization programs, UW Health, pediatric infectious disease physician, UW Health Kids, and professor of pediatrics, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Influenza seasons are hard to predict but this year there will be less community carryover immunity from last flu season for two reasons, he said.
“Fewer Wisconsinites got their flu vaccines last year than usual years, and second, there were lower flu numbers of people catching the flu last winter due to all the COVID-19 mitigation efforts during the delta and omicron surges,” Conway said. “We are headed into our third COVID-19 winter but we can’t forget about other serious viral infections, especially the flu. The best way to protect yourself from the flu and significantly reduce your risk of hospitalization and death is to get the influenza vaccine.”
With appointments available now, experts encourage the public to schedule their influenza vaccine as soon as possible. Anyone 6 months and older is eligible to get the influenza vaccine.
Having as many people as possible get a flu shot is key to protecting people who are vulnerable, and key to avoiding overwhelming the health system and ensuring that hospital beds go to those who need them, Conway said.
“Getting a flu vaccine is never just about you,” he said. “It’s also about protecting the people around you who cannot get vaccinated or may not be fully protected by the vaccine for some reason. Today is not too soon to schedule your appointment.”
Conway also points out that the flu is not just a cold, it can be more serious.
“It is important to get an influenza vaccine every year since the viruses change every year, and therefore so do the vaccines,” he said. “And even though it changes annually, you can never catch the flu from the flu vaccine. It is safe.”
With the recently updated plan for COVID-19 boosters, new this year, you can get the latest COVID-19 booster at the same time as the influenza vaccine at UW Health.
Most health systems and pharmacies have begun offering flu vaccines. UW Health patients can schedule a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 vaccine booster at the same time if they are eligible by visiting MyChart or calling their primary care clinics.
A recorded interview with Conway is available, and he is also available for interviews today between 9-11 a.m.