If you’re going to get a flu shot, it’s usually best to try to get it well before flu season flu season starts, sometime in September or October. But with busy schedules, flu shot delays and shortages, earlier isn’t always possible—and that’s okay too. This is one of those situations where “better late than never” definitely applies.
While the CDC recommends getting vaccinated early, they also say that it’s still worth getting, even if you’re not able to get vaccinated until the end of October or later. In fact, a later vaccination will still protect you from the flu in February and May, which is when the flu most commonly peaks. To find out more about getting your flu shot, read through the info below.
Everyone six months of age and older, with rare exceptions, should get a flu shot—and if you have a medical condition that puts you at risk of serious flu complications, the vaccine is particularly important. There are different vaccines that are appropriate for different age groups, as different flu shots are approved for people of different ages.
While there are vaccines approved for those as young as six months of age, some vaccines are only approved for adults. For example, the recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV) is approved for people aged 18 years and older, and the adjuvanted and high-dose inactivated vaccines are approved for people aged 65 years and older.
Most higher risk patients can safely get the vaccine, too, pregnant women, people with certain chronic health conditions, and most people with egg allergies can safely get the flu shot. However, those younger than six months of age, as well as those with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine (including gelatin and antibiotics) should not get the flu vaccine.
If you have any questions about whether or not you or a member of your family should receive the vaccine, talk to your provider. It’s particularly important that those with egg allergies or allergies to ingredients in the vaccine, as well as those with Guillain-Barré Syndrome and those currently experiencing flu-like symptoms, discuss their options with their provider before getting vaccinated.
When a vaccine is introduced into the body, your immune system gets to work creating antibodies. These antibodies will develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination, and will provide protections against future infections with circulating influenza viruses.
Seasonal flu vaccines are designed to protect against viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. In the United States, all flu vaccines are “quadrivalent” vaccines, which means they protect against four different flu viruses.
Vaccine effectiveness will vary from season to season, but according to the CDC, recent studies show that the flu vaccine can reduce the risk of getting the flu by 40 to 60 percent among the overall population. This is during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.
The effectiveness of a flu vaccine depends on two main factors: who is being vaccinated, and the “match” between the flu viruses and the flu vaccine. However, even if there is a good match between the flu vaccine and circulating viruses, the benefits of flu vaccination will vary, due to the characteristics of the person being vaccinated, what influenza viruses are circulating that season and even, potentially, which type of flu vaccine was used.
This year, in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever to get your flu shot to protect from respiratory illnesses like the flu, as well as flu-related complications. This is, in part, because the flu shot can reduce the number of trips people will make to health care facilities, which can increase your risk of getting the coronavirus.
But more importantly, getting the flu vaccine is important this season because of the overlap between treatments for the flu and COVID-19. Both patients depend on the same resources for treatment, such as ventilators and oxygen, and getting the flu shot reduces the chances that flu patients and COVID patients are competing for these resources. Lastly, too many cases of the flu may result in a shortage of PPE for our care providers. Of course, this is also why it's important to get your covid vaccine as well.
Unfortunately, flu vaccines will not protect you from COVID-19. Flu vaccination will only reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death. Likewise, getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19, but those vaccines do not protect against flu. And according to the CDC, it’s perfectly fine to get your flu shot the same day as your COVID-19 booster.
Ideally, you’d have gotten your flu shot two weeks before the flu season begins. But if you haven't, the PSA is that it’s almost never too late to get your flu shot. In most parts of the US, the virus will still be circulating as late as May, so it’s worth it to get the flu vaccine anytime before then. Now that you know the basics, consider contacting your health care provider and scheduling your flu shot today.
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