Got your flu shot? US didn’t have much of a flu season in 2020, but this year could be different

“Flu is very wily. It shapeshifts a lot faster than the coronavirus we’re dealing with. There are so many strains bopping around all the time. … It is always better to have some protection than none,” says Katherine Wu, Atlantic staff writer covering science. Photo by Shutterstock.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging everyone to get vaccinated against influenza and coronavirus as soon as possible. Last year, thanks in part to masks, social distancing, and quarantine measures, there was hardly a flu season. The CDC reported only about 2,000 cases between October 2020 and July 2021. That’s in comparison to nearly 38 million cases the previous year. 

“Because most of us were not infected by flu viruses last year … that means we didn’t get the typical population-level immunity boost that we all normally get,” says Katherine Wu, Atlantic staff writer covering science.

She says the flu is wily and changes shape faster than COVID-19. “There are so many strains bopping around all the time. Scientists always have to take a gamble when they’re formulating that vaccine. … Having a little bit less data this year does sort of throw a wrench into things. I don’t think anyone is yet 100% sure how well our flu vaccine is going to work this year. But no matter what, it is always better to have some protection than none.”

Both the flu and COVID-19 are respiratory viruses, she points out. “They like to hang out in your airway. And so when you’re coughing, sneezing, speaking, just spewing little moist droplets out of your airway, that’s when the virus is going to hit you right on.”

She says COVID “transmits better” than the flu, and the safety protocols we use against coronavirus will protect people especially well against the flu. 

Credits

Guest:

  • Katherine Wu - staff writer at the Atlanic who covers science