MDH: vaccination rate low at 23% as bad flu season begins

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As influenza cases skyrocket and health officials gear up for a bad flu season, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is urging people to get their flu shot.

Although it’s normal to see flu shot information campaigns, this year’s call comes with some concern: MDH says less than a quarter of Minnesotans have gotten their flu shot as of Oct. 31.

“People seem to have forgotten about flu shots in the midst of the pandemic, but it’s time to prioritize your flu shot again,” an MDH representative told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

MDH says right around 50% of people got their yearly flu booster before the pandemic, but in 2022, that number sits at 23%.

Before the pandemic, the department didn’t consider half of the population a good benchmark, either: “Those old rates were not what we would consider good or ideal by any means, but we need to be working to see those rates again and improve on them.”

Although this year’s data won’t come out for a while, the toll of influenza and similar illnesses has already started to sink in.

“Right now, our hospitals are overflowing,” said Dr. Michael Stiffman, chair of family medicine at HealthPartners. “This year, we’re definitely seeing an earlier spike and a much more severe spike than we’ve seen in the last few years.”

MDH data shows influenza usually surges in Minnesota in mid to late December, but in 2022, the spike began about a month earlier than usual.

Health officials are asking all people who can to get the flu shot, even if they’re part of the unlucky camp who has already been hit by a bug.

“Even if you’ve already had influenza this year, the vaccine protects against four strains. So in order to keep yourself safe from potentially picking up another strain throughout the year, it’s not too late,” said Melissa McMahon, senior epidemiologist at MDH.

Find where you can get your flu shot with the vaccine finder from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.