For months, health officials have talking about the importance of getting a flu shot for the upcoming fall and winter season, although there have been questions on timing.
A flu vaccine is only effective for a few months, so when is just the right time to get one that will span the 2020-2021 flu season?
The answer is right now.
September is the perfect time, according to the doctors we asked and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Why was it too early in August?
“The flu shot offers protection against the flu for at least six months,” says Jennifer May-Ortiz, a family physician in Summit. “Healthcare professionals typically aim to vaccinate patients beginning in September through the end of October so patients are protected through the peak of flu season.”
She cautions that flu shots work by getting the body’s immune system to produce antibodies to specific strains of the influenza virus, “and it takes about two weeks after getting a flu vaccine for your body to have a full response.”
Additionally, COVID-19 presents another wrinkle in this year’s flu season, says Dr. Payal Joshi, a family physician in Scotch Plains.
“With the ongoing pandemic, this year’s flu shot is even more important,” Joshi says. “Flu vaccine gives some protection should someone come down with both flu and COVID-19 simultaneously.”
Joshi says everyone should get the flu vaccine (with rare exceptions), and people who are high risk — those 65 and older, the very young and those with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems — are also at high risk of flu complications.
“Teachers, first responders, those who travel for work or are in close proximity to someone at high risk for a flu complication should also make sure to get the flu shot,” she says.
The CDC cautions that although vaccines should be administered by the end of October, even if you miss that deadline, you should still get vaccinated for as long as influenza viruses are circulating locally.
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Jessica Remo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.