A flu season that hit the United States early and hard is showing the first signs of slowing in parts of the country.
For the first time this season, flu hospitalizations have dropped week-over-week. The week after Thanksgiving was the season’s worst yet, but data published Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that flu hospitalizations fell 10% in the week after that.
Still, flu activity remains high nationwide, and this is not a sign that flu has peaked. Like last week, all but seven states continue to have “high” or “very high” respiratory virus activity, according to the CDC.
The holiday season is well underway too, and experts have warned that holiday gatherings could increase the spread of respiratory viruses.
As of December 10, the CDC estimates that there have been at least 15 million illnesses, 150,000 hospitalizations and 9,300 deaths from flu this season.
This season’s cumulative hospitalization rate is higher than it’s been in more than a decade. And even with the signs of improvement, millions more were infected last week, and thousands died.
Health leaders continue to emphasize the importance of vaccination, especially as Covid-19 ramps up again and the strain on hospitals persists.
“We have the tools, we have the infrastructure, and we have the know-how to manage this moment,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said Thursday.
Uptake of both the updated Covid-19 booster shot and the annual flu vaccine is lower than experts would like.
Only about 40% of adults and 46% of children have received their flu shot this season, far below the target rate of 70% set by the US Department of Health and Human Services in the Healthy People 2030 plan.
The CDC on Friday also published new estimates for flu vaccine coverage among adults, which show that vaccine coverage among White people (45%) and Asian people (47%) is much higher than it is for Black people (33%), Hispanic people (28%) and American Indian people (26%). Coverage among pregnant people (44%) is significantly lower than it was for the past two seasons, and coverage in rural areas is lagging behind that in urban and suburban areas.
Flu vaccination rates for seniors are better, with 64% vaccinated this season, but still not high enough for a group that is particularly at risk of severe outcomes from flu. There have been about 88 hospitalizations for every 100,000 people 65 and older this season – nearly three times the average hospitalization rate.
Children younger than 5 have also been hospitalized with flu 1.5 times more often than the overall population.