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This year's mild flu season comes with good and bad news

As the flu makes its way through the population, it boosts the immunity among those who recover - an immunity that can last a few years. However, that part of the process is gone this year and potentially leaves more people than ever before susceptible to the flu.
Each year, scientists and pharmaceutical companies create a flu vaccine based on which strain they believe will be circulating in a new season. Because this year's flu season has been so mild, it may be harder for them to figure out which strain of the flu will dominate next season. Flu vaccine manufacturing typically takes place well before the flu season even begins.
It takes time to manufacture all the needed doses of a new flu vaccine. The work on a vaccine for the next flu season is already underway.
Posted at 1:23 PM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 13:23:57-05

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the first flu season since the coronavirus pandemic began, there is some good news: flu cases are down.

Way down.

“It's been remarkable,” said Dr. Lisa Maragakis, an infectious disease physician with the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “We were concerned that there might be something that we were all calling a 'twindemic,' of having the collision of influenza and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and that did not materialize this year because we've just seen almost no influenza transmission this year.”

The most recent numbers from the CDC back that up.

Since September, when the flu season began, there have been less than 1,500 flu cases in the U.S. Compare that to this time last year, there had already been more than 174,000 cases.

While that’s good for this flu season, it may not be for the next one.

“You're going to have the potential for a much larger flu season next year given all of the people who are potentially susceptible to being sick,” said Johns Hopkins professor of emergency medicine Dr. Eili Klein.

That’s because as the flu makes its way through the population, it boosts the immunity among those who recover, an immunity that can last a few years.

However, that part of the process is gone this year and potentially leaves more people than ever before susceptible to the flu.

“Getting your flu vaccine earlier next year, rather than waiting, is actually probably beneficial,” Dr. Klein said.

Yet, creating next year’s flu vaccine could be problematic, too, experts say.

“The selection of the strains that will be in the influenza vaccine each year is based on the circulating virus and we just haven't seen that much circulation,” Dr. Maragakis said. “So, we will have to make some guesses.”

Those guesses are already underway because it takes time to manufacture all the needed doses of a new flu vaccine. It’s one vaccine that they won’t be sure hits the mark until the next flu season.