Flu Vax Facts: What to Know for the 2022-2023 Flu Season

Your best weapon against the flu? Get vaccinated. Here’s what you need to know about this season’s flu shot.
Medically Reviewed

A s we head into flu season — which typically ramps up in the fall, peaks between December and February, and can last until May — you’ll want to be prepared. Because although the all-too-familiar influenza virus has been overshadowed by the novel coronavirus in the past few years, the flu is still one of the greatest public health challenges we face, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Last season, given the preoccupation with COVID and the COVID vaccine, I had to remind everybody the flu is also a highly dangerous respiratory virus,” says William Schaffner, MD, professor of infectious disease at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. “Bringing flu back to people’s attention is important.”

As is the flu vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the number of people getting an annual flu shot: Only around half of Americans get vaccinated each year — even though the shot is recommended for nearly everyone 6 months and older.

How Much Do You Know About the Flu Shot?

On the Street: Flu Vaccines

The flu shot is your best protection against the influenza virus and the complications it can cause. Real people share their flu shot plans, what they know about the vaccine, and more.
On the Street: Flu Vaccines

4 Key Benefits of the Flu Vaccine

calendar marked with flu shot date

An annual flu shot helps:

  1. Prevent flu infection. Vaccination can lower your risk of coming down with the flu by 40 to 60 percent.
  2. Reduce the severity of symptoms. If you get infected with the flu anyway, you probably won’t be as sick or for as long as you would have if you hadn’t gotten vaccinated.
  3. Protect against complications. You’ll have a lower risk of developing flu-related illness that can land you in the hospital or ICU, and even be fatal.
  4. Keep other people healthy. This is especially true of those who are vulnerable to infection or who can’t get vaccinated, such as infants, older adults, and people who have compromised immune systems or chronic conditions.

How Experts Design Each New Flu Vaccine

Each year, the flu vaccine is updated to target specific strains of influenza that virologists predict to be circulating in the coming flu season.

As part of the World Health Organization Global Influenza Surveillance Response System, 144 national influenza centers around the globe conduct year-round surveillance of the flu virus. Twice a year, a committee made up of representatives from five of the top participating centers come together to review the data and determine which strains to include in the next round of flu vaccines. They base their recommendations on:

  • Which flu viruses are actively making people sick
  • How much these viruses are spreading
  • How effective the previous season’s flu vaccine is likely to be against them
  • Whether or not the vaccine can provide cross-protection for other related viruses

This year’s shot is a quadrivalent vaccine, meaning it protects against four viruses — two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. (Previous vaccines have been trivalent and formulated to protect against two influenza A and one influenza B virus.)

Most recommended vaccines are offered at doctors' offices, pharmacies, medical clinics, local health departments, and pop-up vaccination sites.

The Flu Shot Isn’t Perfect, But Vaccination Is Still Important

The first and most common reason people give for not getting vaccinated is that they’ve heard the flu vaccine doesn't always work, says Dr. Schaffner. But no vaccine is 100 percent effective.

When the flu vaccine is a good match with the circulating virus, it can reduce the risk of flu by up to 60 percent for those who are vaccinated. That means 60 percent fewer vaccinated people will contract the flu after they encounter the virus compared to the unvaccinated. The flu is highly contagious, so if you’re not vaccinated, you’re more likely to develop the flu.

Because the recommendations for which strains to include in this seasons’ vaccines were provided in March, and flu season isn’t in full swing, how effective they will be is an unknown. But that isn’t a reason not to get a flu shot.

Even if the flu vaccine isn’t perfectly matched to the dominant strain circulating, you do get some residual protection, particularly against severe disease, emphasizes Schaffner.

Other Steps to Protect Your Health

While getting your annual flu vaccine is the first step you can take to prevent flu, these strategies can also help.

“If you develop flu-like symptoms, particularly if you’re in a high-risk group for complications, get yourself tested,” emphasizes Schaffner. “Contact your healthcare provider, because you may be prescribed an antiviral, which can reduce your chance of needing hospitalization and getting more seriously ill. And of course, stay home — don’t go out and about and spread flu to others.”