Flu shots are available. Is it too soon to get one?
It was before Labor Day when I saw the sign promoting flu shots at a local pharmacy.
Already? I always thought of flu shots as something to add to my to-do list around Halloween – and then get serious about it around Thanksgiving.
Maybe it was an old sign from last winter. But I checked the fine print and it offered a coupon if you got your flu shot between Aug. 14, 2017, and March 31, 2018.
That got me wondering: Is it too soon to get a flu shot? Will it still work when flu season hits in full force?
Kathleen Kohut, MS, RN, CIC, director of infection prevention at Cape Cod Healthcare, was happy to answer my questions.
“There’s no such thing as too early,” she said. “When production begins and the vaccine is available, then it’s fine to get it because your immunity lasts much longer than just a couple of months.”
And don’t worry that a different or better vaccine will come along later.
“They lock into it,” she said. “Those decision are made based on the previous season when they start to see the trends of the types of flu people are getting. They decide based on the previous year what they’re going to put in the flu vaccine this year. It’s a difficult process that’s not flexible.”
Flu season varies from year to year, she said. It can start in October, but frequently starts around Thanksgiving or early December.
“Even though the peak of the season is usually February to March-ish, people still straggle in with flu in April and May. Last year was a late year. It ended in May,” Kohut said.
A flu shot takes about two weeks to give you full protection and will last through the end of the season, she said.
Better Late Than Never
If you’re a procrastinator, late is better than never. The flu can still be circulating in the summer, she said, so a shot in March would give you protection for the tail end of the season.
“It’s never too late to get that flu shot, although you might have more difficulty finding it by the time April and May come around,” she said.
It doesn’t matter whether you get your flu shot at a pharmacy, a flu clinic or your doctor’s office.
“They’re getting the same drugs from the same places,” she said.
Many health plans cover the shot, she said.
A study at Penn State College of Medicine found that flu vaccination rates for children were 1.6 percent lower in 2016-2017 than in 2015-2016 – probably because last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended against the use of the nasal spray version of the vaccine.
“It was found to be less effective than the injection; significantly so,” said Kohut. “They stopped manufacturing it so they could revisit the formulation and decide where to go with it.”
But that doesn’t mean parents should skip getting their children vaccinated, even if the child (like most) dislikes injections.
“I think it’s an opportunity to teach your child how to protect themselves, starting with hand hygiene but also getting appropriate medication, even if it hurts for two seconds,” she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children 6 months and older get the flu vaccine.