When Should I Get My Flu Shot?

October 29, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Thomas Bader, M.D. contributes to topics such as Medical Quality.

Now that fall has arrived, flu season is on its way. The best way to lower your risk of getting influenza is going for a flu shot before flu season begins. We talked to Thomas Bader, M.D., vice president of medical quality at Hackensack Meridian Health about when it’s the right time to get a flu shot. Here’s what he had to say:

Timing your flu shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults and children older than 6 months in age should get flu shots annually. The timing is important: Getting vaccinated around late October is ideal, because it should offer you full protection for the entire flu season.

Cases of the flu typically peak between December and February, but the influenza virus spreads differently every year, usually beginning in November, sometimes going as late as April or May. Going for a flu shot too early – may backfire, because it may not protect you for the entire flu season.

However, it isn’t too late to get a flu shot after October, if the month comes and goes and you don’t get vaccinated. A belated flu shot offers protection for the remainder of the flu season.

Why to get a flu shot early in the fall

It’s better to get vaccinated during early fall than later in the season, because the longer you wait, the more likely you are to be exposed to the virus without having the vaccine in your system.

Getting vaccinated doesn’t provide you with instant protection. Your immune system needs about two weeks to develop antibodies to the flu shot, which help to protect you from the flu. Roughly two weeks after you receive your flu shot, your immune system should be prepared to face off the flu for roughly four to six months.

“A flu shot may offer some protection if you’re exposed to the flu during the first few days after your vaccination, but it will be most protective after your body has time to develop antibodies,” says Dr. Bader.

You can get a flu shot at several locations, including:

  • your doctor’s office
  • a walk-in clinic
  • at work (employers may be less likely to offer this during the pandemic)
  • a local flu shot clinic

Why to get a flu shot during the pandemic

Flu shots won’t provide immunity to COVID-19 but protecting yourself from the flu during the pandemic is especially important. COVID-19 cases are expected to rise during the cold-weather months, which coincides with flu season. By getting a flu shot, you’ll lower your chances of getting sick from a common virus at a time when COVID-19 cases may be rising.

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.