This story appeared in The Manistee News. Read more here. 

Michigan health officials expecting a heavier flu season than last year hope to vaccinate more than 40% of the population.

Last flu season Michigan’s vaccination rate was about 34%, according to the Michigan Care Improvement Registry. That was the highest state flu vaccination rate of all time, according to state health officials.

In the 2019-20 flu season 31.6% of people were vaccinated, according to state numbers.

The best time for flu shots is in September and October so people are protected before the flu starts to circulate, said Terri Adams, the section manager of immunizations at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The new flu season may be worse than last year when COVID-19 precautions helped keep it from spreading.

“Last year we had a low number of flu cases, but we were mitigated at home, socially separated, schools closed and sports were canceled,” Adams said.

Rates of viral infections are already rising, said Dr. Rebecca Schein, a Michigan State University assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Human Development.

“Last winter was odd in that there was very little influenza due to the infection prevention measures that were in place,” she said. “This year, we are already seeing rising rates of other viruses and we anticipate a typical flu season with high rates of infection.”

The flu vaccination rate reported by Michigan in the 2019-20 flu season is 31.6%. That is less than the 49.7% the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that year.

The gap is caused by differences in collecting data, state officials say.

The state figures count people from 6 months to 20 years and part of the population above 20. The federal data is based on the National Health Interview Survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System to estimate the number of vaccinated people according to the health officials.

Michigan’s federal 2019-20 flu vaccination rate ranks 38th in the nation and is just below the national average rate of 51.8%.

Among the reasons people refuse to get a flu shot is that they don’t think that they’ll get sick or they are afraid of vaccine side effects, according to research scientists at the CDC.

Flu season pops up in different months every year, and it’s hard to say when the next season starts, Adams said. She said people should receive the shot at least two weeks prior to the flu beginning to circulate for maximum protection.

But since the influenza season peaks in February, Adams said, it’s still worth getting a vaccine after the winter holidays and even into the spring or summer.

“Persons can receive an influenza vaccine as long as they are available until the vaccine expires, which for most of the inventory is June 30, 2022,” said Jackie Anderson, the personal health supervisor at Barry-Eaton District Health Department.

“People can get a COVID-19 and a flu vaccination at the same time,” Schein said. “I have to say we don’t have direct data of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine together. But from what we know from other vaccines given in groups, the CDC is not concerned about them giving at the same time. They have said that it is fine to get them together.”

Dr. Annette Mercatante, the medical health officer at the St. Clair County Health Department, agreed.

“In general, we like to vaccinate simultaneously because people don’t tend to come back,” Mercatante said. “So, you have them in front of you (and) you want to get them all vaccines that they are eligible for.”