How Bad Will Flu Season Be, and When Should I Get a Shot?

  • This year’s US flu season could be bad, based on what happened in Australia.
  • Getting a flu shot in October or November is a good idea.
  • And strategic masking during cold season can make a huge difference.

With flu season approaching in the US, murmurs of a potential “twindemic” brewing are once again starting to surface.

“This could very well be the year,” Vanderbilt infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner told NPR’s Up First on Friday, “we have a surge in COVID, and simultaneously an increase in influenza.” 

One big reason that infectious disease experts are especially worried this year is because Australia’s 2022 flu season was pretty bad, and what happens during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter flu surge often forshadows the US flu season well.

australian chart of flu cases year over year, with 2022 looking bad

Australian Department of Health

Leading virologist Florian Krammer says it’s a little too soon to say this season will be a doozy.

“Of course flu could come back stronger than usual, because there’s a lot of naive substrate around,” he told Insider, referring to people who might not’ve had the flu in recent years, or at all, in the case of young children. 

Here are two simple measures Krammer’s using to prepare. 

Don’t get a flu shot too early, but get it by the end of November 

Krammer, who lives in New York where flu activity is currently low, said he’s planning to wait until late November to get vaccinated this year. 

“I always do that, and I’m not going to deviate from it this year,” he said.

Other experts agree that the best time to get your flu shot is typically in October or November, as optimal protection typically lasts between four and six months, and influenza season can stretch well into the spring. Last year, “the season dragged out for a really long time,” Krammer said, and he wants to maximize his protection.

Even in June, many presumed flu cases were still being logged across states including Colorado, Florida, and in Washington DC:

map of US showing flu activity in the spring- with bad spots scattered

CDC Flu View

But, if you live in an area of the country where flu is already surging, like Texas or DC, getting a flu shot sooner rather than later could be prudent: 

map of US showing flu activity now - with cases in texas, DC

CDC Flu View

The good news is that this year’s flu shot should be well-matched to what’s circulating out there: lots of influenza A.

Getting vaccinated will be especially important for young children under 3 years old, who may have had no exposure to the flu virus yet in their lifetime.

Fortunately, the flu is “relatively easy to stop,” compared to COVID, Krammer said, by staying home when we are sick, and with masking in places where other people might be sick. 

“That’s why I think it’s a good idea during the winter season or during the cold season that people in healthcare facilities wear masks, right?” he added. After all, during the 2020-2021 flu season, when most people were still wearing masks to avoid COVID, the flu all but disappeared. 

“You kind of avoid a lot of things,” Krammer said. “Honestly, personally, I’m going to wear a mask in the subway and in planes from now on during the cold season, for sure.”

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