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The Unpredictable Factors of the 2021-22 Flu Season

A look at the COVID-19 driven factors for this upcoming influenza season, from reopening classrooms to reduced mutation chances.

Following a minimal influenza season amid rampant COVID-19 outbreak during 2020-21, US experts are beginning to speculate the risk of a worse 2021-22 flu season.

As many are indicating, though, the factors influencing flu outbreak risk are varied—and sometimes linked to COVID-19 response.

In the next segment of an interview with Contagion, Jason C. Gallagher, PharmD, FCCP, FIDP, FIDSA, BCPS, Clinical Professor at Temple University School of Pharmacy, discussed the unknown expectations of the upcoming flu season. One major influence, Gallagher noted, is the evolving strategies of classroom settings.

“Unlike for COVID, kids are what spread influenza, and those kids were not together in the same way,” Gallagher said. “Some of them were remote learning, others were together in the classrooms with masks or social distancing.”

Gallagher also noted that parental anxiety surrounding COVID-19 may influence likelihood of flu spread among children this year. He expressed overall concern for what a quieter 2020-21 season may indicate for future seasons as well.

“I also am curious as to whether our vaccine will be matched well against the strains that emerge,” he said. “I don’t think we have a reason to think it won’t, just because there’s been less influenza overall and less chance for it to mutate.”

Again, how such evolving factors and responses to another respiratory virus outbreak influence the flu season are difficult to project.

“Those kind of things are all pretty hard to quantify but all come into this equation,” Gallagher said. “Coming into this year, it’s obviously going to be different.”