Flu Activity Increases While Vaccination Lags

November 27, 2023 – The flu season has started, and flu activity is increasing in most of the United States. According to CDC’s weekly FluView report, flu activity is increasing most noticeably in the South Central, Southeast, Mountain, and West Coast regions. Outpatient respiratory illness is above baseline nationally for the third week and is at or above baseline in seven of 10 HHS Regions. The number of weekly flu hospital admissions continues to increase, and CDC estimates that there have been at least 1.2 million illnesses, 12,000 hospitalizations, and 740 deaths from flu so far this season. Unfortunately, so far, flu vaccination coverage is lower among children and adults this year compared to the same time last year. With flu activity expected to continue for many weeks, now is still a good time to get vaccinated against flu to help protect yourself and your family this fall and winter.

Flu Vaccination Among Children

As of November 4, 2023, flu vaccination coverage among children overall is about 4 percentage points lower than the same time last season. Coverage among White and Black children is down by about 7 and 6 percentage points respectively. While flu vaccination coverage among children increased the two seasons prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (2018–2020), coverage declined during the pandemic and at 57% at the end of last season, was about 6 percentage points below pre-pandemic levels.

Flu Vaccination Among Adults

Flu vaccination coverage for adults 18 years and older as of October 14, 2023, was about 3 percentage points lower overall than the same time last season. At that time, racial disparities persisted with coverage among White adults being about 11 percentage points higher than among Black adults. Flu vaccination coverage among pregnant people as of October 31, 2023, was similar to the same time last season. Different CDC data sources estimate that at the end of last season, flu vaccine coverage among pregnant women since the COVID-19 pandemic was in the range of 10 to 15 percentage points.

There’s Still Time to Get a Flu Vaccine

About one-third of Americans report having gotten a flu vaccine so far this season. Adult flu vaccine coverage in the United States has hovered at around 50 percent of the population for years. Historically, most flu vaccination has taken place during the month of October. While vaccination during October is ideal per CDC guidance, the agency continues to recommend flu vaccination as long as influenza viruses are circulating. With the flu season just getting started, activity is expected to continue for weeks. Anyone who has not gotten a flu vaccine so far this season, should get vaccinated now. Most of the viruses circulating so far this season are well-matched to the vaccine viruses, which suggests flu vaccination will offer substantial protection this season. About 80 percent of influenza viruses tested in public health laboratories and reported to CDC this season have been influenza A viruses and 20 percent have been influenza B viruses. Flu vaccines are designed to protect against four different influenza viruses, so even if you already got the flu this season, vaccination can still protect you from getting sick with another circulating influenza virus.

Getting vaccinated can reduce your risk of getting sick and make your illness milder if you get vaccinated but still get sick. Vaccination may also help protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions. Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year for the best protection against flu.