Flu Season Is Here!

Thumbnail Health CareIt’s the start of fall, the leaves are starting to change color, and the days are getting shorter. But fall also means the return of seasonal influenza—it’s flu season. Getting the flu vaccine is one of the best ways you can protect yourself against the flu. Earlier is better so you and others are protected before the season begins. However, getting vaccinated even in December or later still helps, because flu season lasts into early spring. Check out some of our findings on public health issues related to flu season.

Flu Vaccine: Supply vs. Demand

We’ve reported on the challenges of matching the supply of flu vaccine with the public’s demand, especially given how the length and severity of the flu season can vary. For example, the 2011-2012 flu season started later than it typically does, peaked in March 2012, and was mild compared to previous seasons—leaving manufacturers with excess flu vaccines. But the following flu season was early and intense, with reports of vaccine shortages. This figure from February 2013 illustrates these variations between flu seasons by looking at the percentage of outpatient visits for flu-like illnesses.

FLU1

Excerpted from GAO-13-374T

Looking at the number of doses of flu vaccine distributed for those flu seasons can also show variations in supply.

FLU2

Excerpted from GAO-13-374T

Preparing for Seasonal Flu on the Federal Level

Over the last decade, the Department of Health and Human Services has made progress in preparing for seasonal flu by, for example,

  • clearer communication with the public about when and where to get the flu vaccine, and
  • investments to enhance overall supply of flu vaccine.

Yet, for each flu season, as we reported,

  • private sector manufacturers have to decide how much vaccine to produce,
  • providers must decide how much to order, and
  • everyone must decide whether, when, and where to get vaccinated.

These challenges—along with the challenges inherent in vaccine production, and the unpredictability of flu seasons—can make it difficult to successfully make the flu vaccine available when and where it is needed.


  • Questions on the content of this post? Contact Marcia Crosse at crossem@gao.gov.
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