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Why Are There So Few Flu Cases This Year?

The prevalence of flu in New York state is way down compared to this time last year. That’s according to an analysis of health tracking data by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. As of January 9, 2021, there were 2,326 confirmed cases of flu and 386 patients hospitalized with flu. At this time last year, the state reported 43,895 confirmed cases of flu and 7,633 patients hospitalized.

There’s a good explanation for that, according to Stephen Cohen, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer at Excellus BCBS.

A Proven Approach for Flu

“We have a proven three-pronged approach to challenging the flu virus: We have a flu vaccine that’s safe and effective and widely available, we have buy-in from much of the public to get the flu vaccine, and we have everyone practicing common-sense behaviors that can reduce the spread of a virus,” said Cohen. “The success of this approach in reducing the impact of this year’s flu virus is the template for reducing the impact of COVID-19.”

The Importance of Vaccines

The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October, peaks between December and February, and can last as late as May. “Each year brings a new formulation for the flu vaccine to reflect the different strains that are expected, so it’s important for everyone to get the flu vaccine each year,” said Cohen.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 192.5 million doses of this year’s flu vaccine have been distributed nationally, to date (as of 1/1/21), compared to 174.2 million doses in total for the 2019-2020 flu season. A 2020 survey of 2,000 upstate New York adults commissioned by Excellus BCBS and conducted by One Research found 60 percent of adults believe it is important to get a flu vaccine.

But It’s More Than Just Vaccines

“And as we’ve learned this year, there’s more to practicing personal responsibility than simply coughing into your elbow. We need to wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash our hands effectively and often to protect ourselves and others,” said Cohen.

To view or download an educational flu poster, visit

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