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2021 Flu Report

Posted by Caitlin Taylor

Jan 28, 2021 9:10:06 AM


While past flu seasons have had pharmacy professionals scrambling to dispense Tamiflu, 2020-2021 looks a little different. The seasonal flu has been out of the spotlight as COVID-19 has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths across our nation. Has this actually been a more mild flu season or is COVID-19 just garnering more of the public's attention? The CDC continuously collects data that can be used to answer these questions, as well as help speculate as to what makes this flu season so different. Read on to learn what's changed:

What does the 2020-2021 flu season look like?

As of the week ending on January 2nd, six states in the country experienced low influenza activity, while the remaining states and territories experienced minimal activity. During the same week in 2020, 35 states and territories were experiencing high or very high influenza activity. While more concrete data will continue to emerge as to the causes of this drastic difference, we can make a few educated guesses on why we’re seeing such a mild flu season. 

We’re keeping a safe distance

Maintaining a six-foot distance from others has been one of the main guidelines for slowing the spread of COVID-19. This has led to a major lifestyle change for many Americans. While preventative measures vary around the country, many states and jurisdictions have at some point mandated limited capacity or closure of restaurants, stores, places of worship, entertainment venues, and other areas that may draw crowds. Schools have especially been a concern as the difficulty of keeping kids distanced from each other makes schools one of the most likely places for infectious diseases to spread. With many school districts adopting virtual or hybrid instruction, children have not been contracting and spreading the flu at the rate they normally do.



Improved flu vaccination rates

During the 2020-2021 flu season, the CDC stressed the importance of getting a flu shot while in the midst of a pandemic. In a statement released before the onset of flu season they said, “…during the continued or recurrent circulation of SARS-CoV-2 concurrently with influenza viruses during the upcoming fall and winter, influenza vaccination of persons aged ≥6 months can reduce prevalence of illness caused by influenza, and can also reduce symptoms that might be confused with those of COVID-19.” Getting a flu vaccine this year not only reduced the risk of flu, but also reduced the likeliness of flu symptoms getting confused with those of COVID-19.

The CDC also explained, “Prevention of and reduction in the severity of influenza illness and reduction of outpatient illnesses, hospitalizations, and intensive care unit admissions through influenza vaccination also could alleviate stress on the U.S. health care system.” Keeping hospitals from reaching capacity has been a major concern throughout the pandemic, so the flu vaccine helps reduce the risk of hospitalization due to the flu.

The push to get a flu shot resonated with Americans, leading to record vaccination numbers. According to the CDC, “As of January 1, 2021, 192.5 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed in the United States. This is the highest number of flu doses distributed in the United States during a single influenza season.”




The pharmacy's role in flu vaccination


Not only is the number of flu vaccine doses significant, the place where Americans chose to get their vaccines is also important. The CDC reported that the number of flu vaccines administered in pharmacies during this flu season is 42% higher than the previous year, while flu vaccines administered in physician medical offices are down 11%. These numbers demonstrate the role of pharmacy professionals as the accessible healthcare providers. While patients may have had trouble getting in-person appointments with their primary care physicians or been reluctant to go to a doctor's office during the pandemic, pharmacies have pushed to make flu shots as available to the public as possible. In order to accommodate social distancing guidelines, some pharmacies have even offered to come out to the patient's car in the parking lot to give flu shots or come to the patient's home.


FredsFluShotA pharmacist at Fred's Pharmacy in Hamilton, AL gives a patient a flu shot in their car.

We can hope that the COVID-19 pandemic leaves Americans with a better appreciation for the necessity of vaccines. Hopefully the high number of flu vaccinations administered continues to rise each year, leading to less illness caused by the flu. Most of all, we hope that these numbers reflect a growing awareness that local pharmacies are here to support their communities available with vaccine administration. 


Topics: Adherence, Compliance, and Health


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