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When should you get the flu shot?

when should you get your flu shot
Photo via KOMUnews/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Experts are recommending to get vaccinated before flu season begins
  • Ideally, you’d get vaccinated before the end of October
  • It takes two weeks after the flu vaccine is given for antibodies to develop

Getting your flu shot is important every year. The flu vaccination will be even more crucial as we head into the 2020 flu season, however, because it coincides with the coronavirus pandemic. So, when should you get the flu shot?

There are already many signs pointing to the virus getting increasingly worse in the winter due to a variety of factors, and although the flu shot will not help fight COVID-19, it’s still more important than ever for anyone over 6 months old to get one, particularly since a potential twindemic is a real worry. The most obvious reason is that hospitals could easily become overwhelmed should the flu and COVID-19 begin spreading simultaneously.

Even those who are currently not coming into contact with others are still advised to get the flu shot this year, according to most experts.

“I understand the desire for social distance, but I think it’s also important to get a flu shot this year,” said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. “It’s important to get one every year, but perhaps even more important this year because we’re probably going to have a convergence of both flu and coronavirus this fall. So, anything we can do to reduce flu I think is going to be really important.”

“Since hospitals and doctors’ offices are going to be very busy caring for COVID-19 patients, a flu vaccine can help decrease burdens on the healthcare system and make sure that those who need medical care are able to get it,” explained immunologist Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association.

But freeing up resources for COVID-19 patients is just one component. “Influenza is a deadly disease in its own right,” Bailey added, citing evidence from earlier this year that suggests it may even be possible to simultaneously contract both coronavirus and influenza. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that people should get a flu vaccine before the virus begins spreading since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop. 

In other words, plan to get vaccinated early in fall, before flu season begins. The CDC recommends that September and October are optimal times to get vaccinated—preferably, by the end of October. However, the agency emphasizes that vaccinations should continue as long as flu viruses continue circulating, even in January or later.

The CDC also warned against getting vaccinated too early, such as in July or August, as it poses a risk of reduced protection later in the flu season—particularly among older adults. 

“The reason for that is the flu shot seems to only work for about six months and we always have quite a lot of flu in our communities in March,” Dr. Miriam Alexander told WBAL 11 News. “We want to make sure people are protected against the flu in March.”

A small ray of hope for flu season

The Northern Hemisphere flu season arrives on the heels of the Southern Hemisphere winter and has the tendency to follow the same trends. Scientists scrutinize data in Oceania and South America for clues as to what’s coming—and perhaps thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, the outlook is looking fairly optimistic so far.

Lauren Sauer, an emergency medicine expert and the director of research for the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit, told CNN that the low levels that medical experts are seeing so far are “unprecedented.”

“While we still remain really vigilant, and we’re still concerned for flu season, we’re hopeful that we will have a similar experience when it comes up here,” Sauer said.

As Gupta noted, people should ward off the flu the same way they’re avoiding the coronavirus—wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing hands as much as possible.

But it’s important not to get complacent about getting a flu shot.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in an interview with the AMA’s JAMA Network that he hopes to push U.S. vaccination rates to 65% this year. According to the CDC, 45.3% of adults got the flu vaccination during the 2018-19 flu season, an increase of more than 8% points from the prior year.

“This is a critical year for us to try to take flu as much off the table as we can,” Redfield said.

Sources: CDC, CNN, WBAL 11 News


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