Exactly When to Get a Flu Shot This Year for the Best Protection, According to an MD
It's not too late (or too early!)—so don't miss your window.
We’ve officially entered fall. While you may be excited to dive right into the season with a toasty pumpkin spice latte, put on your coziest sweater, and take a trip to the local orchard for apple picking, you have one thing you have to do first: Get a flu shot.
It may seem early, but it’s officially flu season, and it’s crucial for you and your loved ones to get a quick flu shot to protect you before things really ramp up. Not sure when to get a flu shot—not to mention where to go, what to do, or who really needs one? Eric Chow, MD, of the Influenza Division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is here to answer all your flu shot and flu season questions.
When Exactly to Get a Flu Shot
According to Dr. Chow, the CDC recommends that people get their flu vaccine before the end of October.
“It takes about two weeks after getting vaccinated for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against flu, which is why it's important to get vaccinated before influenza activity begins in your community,” he says.
However, if you miss this deadline, don’t give up on the flu shot completely. The CDC also notes, getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial as the flu season can last well into January or later.
Where to Get a Flu Shot
Here’s the good news—you can get a flu shot just about anywhere. The flu vaccine, CDC says, can be found in doctor's offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, and college health centers. Many employers and schools also offer it on a rolling basis (if they haven't provided it already, check in with your HR department for details). Some places will even offer the flu shot for free, so make sure to check in with local clinics, libraries, and town halls to see if there’s one available near you.
Who Should Avoid Getting a Flu Vaccine?
“People should talk to their health care provider if they have concerns about getting a flu vaccine,” Dr. Chow explains. “Different flu vaccines are approved for use in different age groups.”
Dr. Chow notes, some vaccines are not recommended for certain groups of people. For example, children younger than 6 months of age are too young to get a flu shot. People with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should also not get the shot. These allergies could include but are not limited to gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients.
If you’re allergic to eggs, fear not, as you can get the flu vaccine too. However, if you do have an egg allergy, experts at the CDC recommend you get the vaccine in a medical setting, where a health care provider can monitor for any symptoms and severe allergic conditions.
And finally, Dr. Chow says anyone who's had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS, a severe paralyzing illness), may not want to get the shot. “Some people with a history of GBS should not get this vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your GBS history.”
What to Know About the 2019 Flu Virus
While Dr. Chow says it's too early to know exactly what kind of influenza viruses will be spreading this season, it’s still a good idea to get the shot, just in case. It’s also important to note that CDC experts do plenty of research to make an educated guess about which strains will be the worst each season. Each year, the team changes the composition of the shot to better reflect and fight the worst strains.
“We do know, however, that every season, regardless of what influenza viruses are circulating, there are millions of illnesses and hundreds of thousands of influenza-associated hospitalizations,” Dr. Chow says. “Influenza vaccines offer the best protection against three or four of the most common influenza viruses expected to be circulating.”
How to Avoid Catching the Flu This Year
Dr. Chow says the CDC recommends everyone take three actions to fight flu:
- Take time to get a flu vaccine.
- Take everyday precautions to help prevent the spread of flu: Cover coughs and sneezes, wash your hands frequently, stay away from those who are not feeling well.
- Take antiviral drugs to treat flu if prescribed by your doctor.
Influenza is not something you want to take your (or your family's) chances on. According to CDC reports, between 9.3 million and 49 million illnesses have been reported in the United States each year since 2010. During the 2017 to 2018 season, an estimated 79,000 adults and an additional 185 children in America died from the flu. If that number doesn’t have you planning a trip to the nearest pharmacy or doctor’s office, at the very least, the fact that it's an extremely quick and convenient (and often free) shot definitely should.