Flu vaccination rates are less compared to last year: There's still time to boost immunization numbers

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published December 12, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • 2023 flu shot uptake is behind that of last year’s.

  • Doctors say that the gap may be impacting vulnerable people, including older adults and members of historically marginalized communities. 

In the United States, 2023 flu vaccination rates lag behind recent years. As of early December, this year's uptake was about eight doses per million behind 2022’s, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the difference might not jump out at everyone, doctors say that it shouldn’t be overlooked.[]

Marc Watkins, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Kroger Health, calls the vaccination rate “worrisome.” This is particularly true for members of historically marginalized communities who can be at greater risk for adverse flu outcomes, especially if not vaccinated, he says. 

“Poor, elderly Black and Brown persons and those without consistent and reliable access to quality healthcare are at risk for more severe disease,” Dr. Watkins adds. “Healthcare providers should center their conversations with patients around explaining the importance of routine vaccinations and screenings for all populations.”

Dr. Watkins encourages providers and pharmacists to work toward increasing the vaccination rate by educating vulnerable patients on the safety and effectiveness of available vaccines.

Age-based vulnerabilities

Increasing the flu vaccination rate is important across all age groups, but particularly among older adults and younger children, says Dr. Watkins.

Per the CDC’s preliminary estimates on the 2022–2023 flu season, more than 70% of influenza-related deaths are occurring among adults 65 and older. More than 93% are occurring among those 50 and older.[]

Is it too late to vaccinate against the flu?

Ideally, patients should receive their flu vaccine in September or October—sometime “before Halloween,” Dr. Watkins says. Early fall vaccinations can help ensure that antibodies are buffed and ready to fight off-peak flu season in the winter, he explains. However, this doesn't mean that people can’t get the vaccine now or that it won’t help them, he adds.

“It’s not too late to get vaccinated against influenza,” Dr. Watkins says. “Any protection is better than no protection. Doctors should remind their patients of this and recommend that flu vaccination efforts continue throughout peak flu season, which is now through February.”

What this means for you

It’s not too late to get patients vaccinated against influenza. Talk to unvaccinated patients about the benefits, safety, and effectiveness of the flu shot.

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