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Is getting the flu shot earlier than later a good thing?

August 30, 2017

Did you know that most Americans go to work despite having flu symptoms?

It’s true.

So, all the more reason to protect yourself by getting the flu vaccine, which can take up to two weeks to become effective.

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By the end of October

The flu season typically peaks in December and January, but in some years it starts as early as October and occasionally has lasted until May. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that “flu vaccination should begin soon after vaccine becomes available, by the end of October, if possible.”

But, can you ever get the flu shot too early for a season that usually peaks in January or February and, like last year in Western Massachusetts, can run into the spring?

“That’s a somewhat controversial subject right now,” said Dr. Daniel Skiest, chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Medical Center.

Vaccine may wane over time

“Although more research is needed, what we are beginning to learn from some studies is that the vaccine may wane as the season progresses. This is especially true for those older than 65, for whom protection may wear off faster than in those who are younger,” said Dr. Skiest.

“The ideal time to get the flu vaccine is probably October, but it is reasonable to get vaccinated in September, especially if you can’t guarantee a visit to receive the flu vaccine after,” he added.

While on the subject of seniors, Dr. Skiest noted a special high dose vaccine for people 65 and older is now available.

Seniors at high risk

“I would recommend asking your doctor about it. The high dose flu vaccine may provide better protection from the flu in patients 65 and over. This age group is at high risk for complications from the flu,” he said.

Whether you are six months or 65, as in past years, the CDC continues to recommend that everyone six months of age and older be vaccinated unless their doctor recommends against it because of certain pre-existing conditions. They say the vaccine for the 2017-2018 flu season has been updated to better match circulating flu viruses.

In addition to the elderly, vaccination is particularly important for younger children who are also at high risk for serious flu complications, as well as those with heart disease, and pregnant women. The most important complication that can affect both high-risk adults and children is pneumonia. The flu can also aggravate and worsen chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

Don't forget your children

According to Dr. Michael Klatte of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division at Baystate Children’s Hospital, getting a flu shot for your children is the single most important thing you can do to protect them and others in your family, who may be exposed to the influenza virus if your child becomes infected at school or elsewhere.

Children between 6 months and 8 years of age who have never received at least two doses of flu vaccine at any point in time during their lives (not necessarily during the same flu season) need two doses of flu vaccine – given at least four weeks apart – to be fully protected from flu.

“Because these doses should be given at least four weeks apart, it’s a good idea to begin the vaccination process right now,” said Dr. Klatte.

Nasal spray no more

While in the past many parents have opted for the use of the nasal spray (FluMist) for their children who feared needles, the CDC is reiterating last year’s recommendation that the nasal spray not be used in any setting during the upcoming flu season. This recommendation is due to the nasal spray’s lack of effectiveness in preventing infections caused by H1N1 influenza strains during two of the past three flu seasons.

Also, consider the following truths:

  • While you might feel a small prick, getting the flu shot is not very painful.
  • You cannot get the flu from the vaccine. However, some may experience soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, or even a mild fever or headache.
  • If you think that you are protected from the flu this year because you were vaccinated last year or in the past, think again. Not only does each year’s vaccine differ in the flu strains targeted, but the immunity provided by the vaccine wanes over time.

For those with egg allergies

It has been widely publicized over the years that those who are allergic to eggs should not get the flu vaccine. There are now flu vaccines that do not contain egg proteins, such as Flublok. There are also other flu vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that do not contain egg proteins, and are approved for those 18 years of age and older. Check with your doctor about which vaccine is best for you.

For those adults who are afraid of needles, and those who have previously experienced arm pain after intramuscular injection of flu vaccine, there is a jet injector with a very short needle that injects vaccine just under the skin. It can be used for individuals who are 18-64 years old.

“People also need to know that in addition to getting the flu vaccine, there are other measures to take to protect yourself and others from the flu. These include such things as staying away from those with the virus, washing your hands with soap and water, and covering your mouth when coughing or your nose when sneezing,” said Dr. Skiest.

 

 

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