Flu shot rates increasing this year as experts worry of double whammy with COVID-19 this season

The number of Americans getting flu shots is on the rise this year, in a rare bright spot for health experts worried about a combination of COVID-19 and the flu hitting the public this fall.

New data from the health IT firm IQVIA finds that 23.5 million people got the flu shot from Aug. 7 through Oct. 2, compared with 12.6 million during the same timeframe in 2019.

“What we are seeing is a significantly higher rate of seasonal flu vaccinations this year than last year,” said Michael Kleinrock, research director for IQVIA’s Institute for Human Data Science, during a webinar Monday sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation on the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare.

Kleinrock added that there has been an increase in flu vaccinations over the past three or four years so the numbers reflect a growing trend.

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But the increase also comes as health experts and providers have warned that “we really need to make sure we don’t have a flu season this year to deal with any third wave and overwhelmed health systems that could come from that,” he said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, M.D., said back in August that the fall and winter could be "one of the most complicated public health times we have with the two coming at the same time," referring to the flu and COVID-19.

The number of COVID-19 cases is once again on the rise thanks to increased cases in the Midwest and several dozen other states. Providers have been urging patients to make sure to get their flu shot to blunt the impact of another potential outbreak in the winter months.

“We will have to see how this plays out through the season,” Kleinrock said.

He added that social distancing and minimal contact among individuals due to COVID-19 could also be great in slowing the spread of influenza.

However, vaccinations can help those at high health risk avoid exposure, he said.

“This is heartening,” Kleinrock said of the increased flu vaccination rates. “We will have to see how this plays out through the season.”

IQVIA based its findings on weekly sales reports of pharmaceuticals.