Watch CBS News

Flu numbers are down as COVID-19 cases surge in the U.S.

Sorting out COVID-19 symptoms from cold, flu
How to sort out symptoms of COVID-19 from other viruses as cold and flu season approaches 02:52

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic surges across the United States, the number of people getting sick with the flu is reaching record lows. Experts say that's partly thanks to higher vaccination rates during the pandemic. 

A record number of influenza vaccine doses are being produced and distributed in 2020, in an attempt to avoid a "twindemic." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 190.4 million flu vaccines have been distributed across the U.S. this season — the highest number of flu doses distributed in the U.S. during a single influenza season.

Flu vaccination among adults rose 46% — from 31.1 million in 2019 to 45.3 million as of November 28.

High vaccine rates, in combination with face masks, social distancing, school closures, stay-at-home orders and a lack of international travel, have led to a record low number of flu cases. 

Seasonal influenza activity in the U.S. remains lower than usual for this time of year, the CDC said, with .3% of specimens testing positive at clinical laboratories last week.

Hospitals at the brink as states brace for surge in COVID-19 deaths 02:13

Data from Walgreens, one of the largest providers of flu shots, confirmed that overall flu activity was low nationwide in the month of November, compared to normal flu seasons. 

"The unprecedented demand we've seen for flu shots this season, along with safety precautions everyone is taking to limit the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing, wearing facemasks and frequently washing their hands, may be contributing to lower flu activity this season," said Dr. Kevin Ban, Chief Medical Officer at Walgreens.

Hospitals across the U.S. are nearing, or are at, capacity, but the lower rates of flu infection are helping to avoid further devastating pressures on the health care system. Resources typically used to handle an influx of flu cases in December can now be used to handle COVID patients instead. 

"Flu vaccination is especially important this season, as vaccination may help preserve medical resources and reduce the overall burden of respiratory illnesses on our health care system," the CDC said. 

A similar phenomenon occurred in the Southern Hemisphere — now past its winter — which barely experienced a flu season this year. 

Experts are still advising that it is not too late to get the flu shot this year — and it could be more important than ever, with cases of both influenza and COVID-19 expected to surge following the holiday season. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.