Want the best protection this season? You may want to get your influenza shot earlier than you think.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone 6 months and older should get their flu shot every season, with a few rare exceptions.
While the flu has a reputation of being mild, that is not the case for many people. The flu kills tens of thousands of people every year ― the CDC noted that it has caused “52,000 deaths annually between 2010 and 2020.”
Below, a vaccine expert shares when to get your flu shot this year and why it’s important to get the jab.
Does everyone need to get a flu shot?
Yes. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, we now know just how important vaccination is to stop the spread of a virus. As we live through another pandemic fall, it’s important to be as protected as possible against both COVID-19 and the flu.
Cases of the flu went down when people were required to wear masks, explained Dr. Bert E. Johansson, a vaccine expert with the National Hispanic Medical Association. That likely won’t be the case this year, since those mandates are no longer in effect in most public spaces.
“Joint infection is difficult to manage, even [for] people who are otherwise not at high risk,” he said. In other words, you really don’t want to get infected with COVID-19 and the flu at once, which is entirely possible.
Your flu shot protects more people than you think.
Not only does your flu shot protect you, but it shields those around you. While you may experience a mild case of the flu, that doesn’t mean those around you will have the same luck.
“People, unfortunately, [have] gotten used to saying it’s just the flu,” Johansson said, but “influenza is a killer” and “tends to kill the young and the elderly,” along with people with diseases like asthma and COPD.
So, while it’s easy to say, “oh, I’ve never gotten the flu vaccine and I’m fine,” it’s crucial to remember that by vaccinating yourself, you’re reducing the risk that the flu will infect someone who may not be fine.
“There were some really great studies [that] show when you vaccinate children, you decrease the likelihood of influenza in the elderly,” he said. “I tell people, ‘don’t necessarily get it for yourself, get it for your grandmother or your grandfather.’”
The best time to get the shot is as soon as it’s available ― most likely within the next month or so.
“People should get their influenza vaccine as soon as it’s available in their community,” Johansson said. “That’s usually in September.”
While we see the flu year-round, it increases in October and November, and then peaks in February, he explained. So, you’ll want to make sure you’re protected by the time cases begin to rise, which means getting a shot as early as September so your body has time to build up immunity.
But, even if you don’t get your flu shot right away, it’s still important to get your shot eventually.
Say you don’t get it in September. Johansson then suggested that you aim for at least the end of October. But overall: Any time is a good time to get your flu shot rather than not getting it at all.
While earlier in the season may be preferable, “if you have the opportunity to get it in December, get it.” Either way, you’re adding to your community’s flu protection and looking out for yourself, too.
You can get the flu shot at the same time you get your next COVID booster, but if the flu shot is available first, don’t wait to get it.
The Biden administration purchased 171 million doses of a new, omicron-targeting COVID booster that is expected to be available in the fall. Experts anticipate that most adults will be able to get it around September.
While you can get your flu shot when you get your next COVID booster, Johansson reiterated that people should get the flu shot whenever it’s available. He expects that the flu shot will be available before the updated COVID booster.
One caveat, though: If you are a person who is uneasy about needles or shots, it may be good to just have one appointment for both if that’s more of a guarantee that you’ll get them. “You can get the shots together, one in each arm,” Johansson said.
So, talk to your doctor about getting your flu shot so you can have a plan before cases begin to soar.
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