Getting a flu shot this year is more important than ever, Bay Area infectious disease experts say. The more than two-year-long COVID-19 pandemic has created pandemic conditions — including low flu vaccine rates and lower natural immunity than pre-pandemic — that will make the upcoming flu season one of the worst in recent years.

Influenza vaccination rates in California and nationwide are down from the 2020 to 2021 flu season from 2019 to 2020, which experts say is partly due to Covid lockdowns or more people delaying non-emergency medical visits, including some vaccines. Meanwhile, mandatory Covid masks in most public places in the Bay Area in 2020 and most of 2021 have limited the overall spread of the flu — meaning fewer people now have natural immunity any time soon.

“We haven’t had a lot of flu the last couple of years,” said Dr. Jeffrey Silvers, medical director of pharmacy and infection control at Sutter Health. “We had some last season, but we can imagine that there’s a chance we could have a significant flu season this year and it could be more than what we’re used to.”

Silvers’ take-home message: “People should get vaccinated this year.” It is very important and I would say it is more important than it has been in the last few years to prepare.

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