When to Get a Flu Shot, According to Experts

December 05, 2023

This article was reviewed by our Baystate Health team to ensure medical accuracy.

Armando Philip S. Paez, MD Armando Philip S. Paez, MD View Profile
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Anyone can get the flu, no matter how healthy they are. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all people (with some exceptions) ages 6 months and older get a flu shot to protect themselves and others from the flu.

When is Flu Season?

Flu season typically strikes the U.S. beginning in October and lasts through May, with infections usually peaking from December through February. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the flu has resulted in between 9 and 41 million illnesses, 140,000-710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000-52,000 deaths annually between 2010 and 2020.

No one knows for sure how to accurately predict how dangerous the newest flu season will be. And that goes for this year’s 2023-2024 flu season.

How Bad Will This Flu Season Be?

The 2022-23 influenza season was moderately severe, while the previous year's flu season was mild and in 2020-21 it was nearly non-existent (possibly because of precautions adopted in the fight against COVID-19). Last year's flu season returned to pre-COVID infection levels, but started earlier than usual. But 2022 could be different given that people are less likely to wear masks and practice distancing. Health experts often look to the Southern Hemisphere for clues.

Where to Get a Flu Shot

While not foolproof, the type of flu season Australia experiences during its winter season could be a sign for what is to come here in the United States.

Australian winter runs from June through August, and according to reports the country's flu season started early this year, and the highest number of cases were in children.

Much more goes into the CDC’s flu forecasting than simply watching Australia’s flu season, but it’s an early indicator of what we might see here in the States. Regardless of whether we have a mild or severe flu season, your best protection against illness is vaccination.

“Increased flu vaccination for both adults and children could help reduce the risk of a more severe flu season,” said Dr. Armando Paez, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Health.

Which Flu is Worse - A or B?

You may have heard that there are generally two types of flu virus each year – flu A and flu B. Is there one that’s worse to get than the other? According to Dr. Amy Starmer, Pediatrician at Baystate General Pediatrics, “Both influenza A and B can cause illness, and the severity can vary each season. The impact may differ among individuals, and susceptibility can change. It's essential to follow the advice of your doctor or pediatrician, who can provide specific guidance based on the current flu season and you and your child's health.”

When to Get the Flu Shot

Ideally, the CDC recommends that everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October since the flu can begin in earnest at any time and it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to build up antibodies to protect you from the flu.

“But it is never too late to get the flu shot to protect yourself throughout the long flu season,” said Dr. Paez. The best time to get a flu shot is as soon as possible, regardless of how late in the season it is.

Dr. Starmer adds, “While it's commonly recommended to get the flu shot in the early fall, getting vaccinated later in the season is still beneficial. The flu season can extend into spring, so even getting vaccinated in January or later can provide protection. It's better to get vaccinated late than not at all.”

Who Should Not Get a Flu Shot?

The CDC notes flu shots are appropriate for most people, with rare exceptions.

People who should not get the flu vaccine include children younger than 6 months of age and those with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in the flu vaccine or who have had a previous severe allergic reaction to a dose of flu vaccine. Ask your doctor if you’re not sure if you should be vaccinated.

COVID Boosters and Flu Shots - Can You Get Them Together?

Yes! Both vaccinations are generally recommended, and can be given together. Dr. Starmer says, “It’s safe and effective to receive the COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time. Health authorities often recommend getting both vaccines to protect against these respiratory illnesses. However, it's crucial to check with your doctor or pediatrician for the most current advice and any potential updates or changes to vaccination schedules.”

So go ahead and schedule that double dose to protect you and your family this season.

Should You Get a Flu Shot?

If you are over 6 years old and not allergic to the flu shot or its ingredients, the answer is likely yes, you should get your flu shot. The best time for the flu shot is as soon as possible, protecting you, your family, and our community against severe disease. When in doubt, discuss flu vaccination with your doctor or your child's pediatrician.

Where to Get a Flu Shot

Learn more and make a plan to get your flu vaccine today.

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