Story at a glance

  • Flu season is coming up in the U.S., usually starting in the fall and lasting until March.
  • People can start getting the vaccine for this season’s influenza virus.
  • Because the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes over time, the timing of when you get your flu shot could affect how well you are protected.

The flu shot for this year’s flu season is now available in the U.S. With experts concerned about how concurrent flu and COVID-19 outbreaks might affect communities and health systems, it is recommended to consider going to get your flu shot as soon as possible. However, some experts suggest that, for certain groups, timing of when to get the shot could be important.

The flu shot is a vaccine for the most dominant strain of influenza virus circulating that year. It works as all vaccines do: It primes your immune system against the pathogen so that if you encounter it your body will be ready to fight it off. But how long this immunity lasts will vary from vaccine to vaccine.


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The immunity induced by the flu vaccine tends to last at least six months, but effectiveness can drop by 6 to 11 percent each month depending on the type of influenza virus, according to a study. This means when you get your flu shot could affect how long you are protected for this winter. Another study found that if older adults were given flu vaccines starting in October rather than August more than 11,000 cases could potentially be prevented.

However, that’s in an ideal situation in which everyone receives a vaccine, and it depends on the flu peaking later in the season, like in December and January. “On the other hand, getting a shot early is dramatically better than not getting a shot at all,” says physician Nate Favini to Refinery29. “So while I tend to think that late October is the optimal time to get a flu shot, if you have a chance to do it sooner and might miss it later in the season, just go for it now.”


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Deferring to October could affect how many people actually get it done. Health experts are recommending that they get their flu shots when they can. The University of California is requiring staff and students to get theirs by Nov. 1. Although it’s better late than never, it’s also better anytime at all. If you prefer to go early, then get your flu shot early.

Jane R. Zucker who is assistant commissioner for the Bureau of Immunization at the New York City Health Department says to the New York Times, “But a vaccine not given won’t protect anyone.”

For up-to-date information about COVID-19, check the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. For updated global case counts, check this page maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

You can follow Chia-Yi Hou on Twitter.

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Published on Sep 18, 2020