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Why will the COVID-19 pandemic impact our next flu season?

The low number of influenza cases mean less information to create a flu vaccine.

ATLANTA — Another flu season is behind us with the next still months away, but medical experts are already looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic could impact our ability to battle the flu.

The number of influenza cases this past winter was low. Georgia Tech’s Dr. M.G. Finn says major efforts to avoid a history making illness had impacts across the board.

“Because we were wearing masks, because we were social distancing all over the world, other viruses that spread in the same way, most of those viruses have decreased,” Dr. Finn said.

Whether masks and social distancing are with us in the future or not, the pandemic will impact efforts to create a flu vaccine next season.

The flu vaccine changes every year depending on the variants that emerge.

“There are many centers, medical centers all over the world that monitor the flu virus in their area,” Dr. Finn said. “They collect information and send samples of the flu virus to the CDC. You need to know what’s circulating.”

The information collected during this past flu season will help determine which variants the vaccine needs to cover next year.

However, fewer flu cases mean less information.

“There is some data for sure, but not as much as is usually available,” Finn said. “This is an inexact science. The certainty will be less than prior years.”

Despite that, Dr. Finn and other medical experts say next year’s flu vaccine will help prevent illness.

“There will still be flu vaccines created for next year and I recommend people take that vaccine,” he said. 

It takes at least six months to produce large quantities of vaccine. Some manufacturers are already at work, using the information they have to prepare for next flu season.