BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Flu Season has returned, and with multiple diseases on the horizon and lowered vaccine rates, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is once again stressing the importance of getting your flu shot.

According to the CDC, during the 2019-2020 season (the last flu period before the COVID-19 pandemic hit), flu vaccines helped to prevent an estimated 7.5 million influenza cases around the country, sparing citizens 3.7 million influence-associated medical visits, 105,000 hospitalizations, and 6,300 deaths due to the sickness. Now that things have opened back up, it’s important to keep this trend of prevention going — and the vaccine is the best way of doing so.

At this point, taking the vaccine is more than a matter of preparing for the worst: the flu has started to spread in North Dakota. In the 2022-2023 flu season, 182 cases of influenza have already been reported to HHS — not counting early outbreaks across the entire United States.

To some, it would seem that the influenza vaccine has not been a concern since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. HHS reports a major drop in the number of children and adults 65 and older who have been vaccinated between the times. The child vaccination rate has dropped from 52% before the pandemic to only 20.3% now. And while the change in 65+ individuals has been slightly lower (now 41.4% as opposed to 52%), it’s still a cause for concern. Children and 65+ individuals are the most vulnerable to respiratory diseases, and keeping the same is still a high priority for HHS.

“Influenza activity is increasing to high levels in other areas of the United States,” says Influenza Surveillance Coordinator Levi Schlosser in a press release. “Early high levels of influenza activity have occurred in North Dakota during previous seasons and are concerning when other respiratory viruses are also circulating widely.” 

It can take up to two weeks for a flu vaccine to take full effect, so HHS wants to remind you that when it comes to vaccines, the sooner, the better. If you won’t take the vaccine to just ward off the flu, the department suggests you still take it for the other benefits.

“Vaccination helps prevent influenza including severe outcomes,” said Immunization Director Molly Howell in the release. “Preventing influenza also prevents missed workdays, doctor appointments, and testing because of symptoms. Influenza vaccination protects against influenza and reduces the risk of becoming co-infected with other respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19 and RSV.”

All residents of the state are encouraged to contact their health provider, public health department, or pharmacist for information about influenza vaccines in their area. Vaccines.gov also hosts a comprehensive search engine for all vaccine providers in the states.

More details about state influenza rates can be found at Ndflu.com.