Thinking about getting your annual flu shot but don’t know when? “The flu shot is available year round,” says Mia Finkelston, MD, a board-certified family physician who treats patients virtually. It’s important to keep in mind that it takes two weeks to become protective once you get it and it only lasts upward of three to four months max.
“Living in the Northeast, I usually recommend Halloween or the first week of November,” she continues. “This way patients are covered through mid-February. The only time it is too late to get the shot is if the flu season is over. Timing for getting the vaccine also depends on where you live and when the winter season starts there. Keep track of trends that are occurring across the nation, and the CDC website is always a great resource for flu surveillance.”
If you’re already feeling flu-like symptoms and want to immediately get the shot to knock it out of your system, that won’t work. Usually we don’t recommend getting the vaccine if you are feeling unwell because it won’t be effective for you. If you’re already sick, it can’t help you right at the moment because it is designed to teach the body what the flu virus looks like and then have the body make antibodies or defenses against the virus.
WHO SHOULDN’T GET A FLU SHOT?
Young infants under 6 months are exempt from getting the shot. “The CDC recommends a seasonal influenza vaccination every year for everyone 6 months old and older,” says Papatya Tankut, RPh, vice president of pharmacy affairs at CVS Health. Also, according to Finkelston, most, but not all, types of flu vaccine contain a small amount of egg protein, so if you’re allergic, you shouldn’t get the shot.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS?
The most common side effects from the flu shot are soreness, redness, and tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Other symptoms include low-grade fevers, headaches, and muscle aches. However, the risk of a flu shot causing serious harm or death is extremely small. Although it is rare, a vaccine—like any medicine—could cause severe allergic reactions. It’s important to let your doctor (or your pharmacist) know if you have a history of allergies or severe reactions to the flu vaccine or any part of the flu vaccine. For the most part, those who get the flu shot have no serious problems from it.
SO IN OTHER WORDS, YOU’RE SAYING I SHOULD GET THE FLU SHOT?
The answer is a resounding yes. It’s important to get the flu shot every year because the immunity provided by the vaccine declines over time. The CDC recommends you get vaccinated as soon as flu vaccines become available. Getting a flu shot is the most effective way to protect yourself and your family from catching the flu. With that being said, different strains of the flu circulate each season, so don’t assume that if you have already had the flu, you will not get it again. If you have already had the flu this season, you should still make it a priority to receive the flu shot.
It’s also important to note that by getting the flu vaccine, you’re protecting others around you, like young children and the elderly, who are the ones who often die from severe flu, especially this season.