Answer provided by Allison Baroco, MD, an Infectious Disease specialist at Augusta Health. Dr. Baroco attended the University of South Alabama Medical School and completed her residency and fellowship at the Eastern Virginia Medical School. She is ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases.
The CDC provides us with a great answer for when you should get your flu shot—as soon as the vaccine becomes available. They recommend that as many people as possible be vaccinated by the end of October, but it's never too late to vaccinate. As long as flu viruses are circulating in the community, though, you should get a flu shot if you haven't had one—even in January or later.
Because it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in your body to protect you against the flu virus, it is best to get your shot before flu starts spreading through the community.
Flu is a respiratory disease that is very contagious. It is sometimes confused with a 'bad cold' because it has similar symptoms like a cough, headaches, or a runny nose. The flu, however, is much more serious than a cold and can lead to complications, hospitalization and even death. Even healthy people can get the flu and develop complications.
This year, experts like the CDC are only recommending the actual flu shot. Alternatives like Flu Mist are not recommended because studies have indicated it is not as effective as previously believed. There are different types of flu shots, generally trivalent with three components and quadrivalent with four components. There are also vaccines for those who are allergic to eggs, and those age 65 years or older.
People who are 65 years of age and older are at high risk of getting very sick from flu, but some in this age group may respond less well o vaccination. There is a high-dose vaccine specifically approved for people 65 and older, which contains 4 times the amount of antigen as the regular-dose vaccine. In addition, there are regular-dose flu shots approved for people 65 and older, including a recombinant vaccine that is made without using flu virus.
Also, for the first time in the United States, the Flu Vaccine with adjuvant is available for those 65 years of age and older, though may not be as accessible in this area. The CDC doesn't have a preferential recommendation for any of the licensed and recommended vaccines this season; our recommendation is for people over 65 years of age get whatever vaccine that is available to them through their primary care provider or local pharmacy.
The most important thing is that all people over 6 months of age get vaccinated to help protect themselves, as well as their family and community members-- especially those people who are at high risk of flu complications, who include:
- Children younger than 5, but especially younger than 2 years old;
- People 65 and older;
- People with asthma, heart disease, chronic lung disease, and neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions;
- People with blood, kidney, liver, endocrine and metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus);
- People who have a weakened immune system due to disease or medication;
- Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum);
- People younger than 19 years old who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy;
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
- American Indians and Alaska Natives;
- People who have extreme obesity (body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater.
So your best shot at avoiding the flu completely is to get your flu shot now—before it hits our community.