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The CDC wants you to get a flu shot before what could be a bad flu season


Infectious disease doctors are urging Americans to get their flu shots, and that's because the virus looks like it could make a comeback in the U.S. this flu season. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the story.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: The flu wasn't much of a problem the last two years because of all the masking, social distancing and other things people did to protect themselves against COVID-19. But the flu hit Australia and some other countries hard during the Southern Hemisphere's winter this year. And what happened south of the equator is often a harbinger of what's to come for the U.S. Here's Dr. William Schaffner from Vanderbilt University at a briefing today.


WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: So if you wanted a hint of what might happen here and you wanted yet another reason to be vaccinated, there it is. So perhaps a moderately severe influenza season is on the way.

STEIN: In fact, the CDC says the flu has already started spreading in some parts of the U.S. But officials are worried that too few people will get their flu shots, in part because of all the anti-vaccine sentiment stirred up by the pandemic. A new survey by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found that only about half of adults say they plan to get a flu shot. That includes only 1 in 5 people at high risk from the flu. Patsy Stinchfield is president of the foundation.

PATSY STINCHFIELD: Flu is not just a bad cold. In fact, the words just and flu should never be in the same sentence. Flu can cause mild to severe symptoms, life-threatening complications including hospitalization and death, even in children and adults.

STEIN: But flu vaccination rates have never been all that great and have dropped among pregnant people and children even though they are at high risk from the flu. Doctors are especially worried about very young children this year because most have never been exposed to the flu. Dr. Rochelle Walensky is the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: Vaccine coverage for children 6 months to 17 years last season was 58%, a nearly six-percentage-point decrease from the 2019-'20 flu season and the lowest flu vaccination coverage we have seen in children in the last eight seasons.

STEIN: And because the coronavirus could surge again this fall and winter, too, officials worry that a long-feared twindemic (ph) could hit the country. So officials are urging people to get both a flu shot and a new COVID booster this month to make sure they're protected from both viruses through the winter. Rob Stein, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WYCLEF JEAN SONG, "911 FT. MARY J. BLIGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 5, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier web introduction to this report mistakenly referred to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases as the National Federation of Infectious Diseases.
Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.