It seems the advertisements to get your flu shot start earlier and earlier every year. But if you get the shot in August, are you protected for the entire flu season? This is a common concern since flu season typically begins in November and runs through May of the following year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Tom Skinner, senior press officer for the CDC, says that people who are vaccinated “early” are equally protected. “A new flu vaccine is manufactured every season,” Skinner explains. “The CDC, along with other organizations, studies virus samples collected from around the world to identify the influenza viruses that are the most likely to cause illness during the upcoming flu season.”
Therefore, as soon as your local pharmacies and doctor’s offices start to offer the vaccine, you can get a shot and be protected for the entire flu season. However, the timing and availability of these vaccines may not be the same every year. “Production varies and depends upon on a number of factors, including the viruses chosen for inclusion in the vaccine," Skinner says.
The CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October before the season peaks. Keep in mind that it takes a couple of weeks for your body to build up full immunity following the shot. It remains effective for up to one year, but the protective antibodies decline over time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that last year’s vaccination will offer adequate protection. The newest flu vaccine will protect against the most common viruses for the upcoming year, which are often different from the viruses that were targeted in last year’s formula.
For maximum protection, the CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get vaccinated annually. For people over 65, getting the shot every year is crucial. Advancing age often weakens the immune system and brings certain health conditions that put seniors at greater risk for serious complications from the flu like pneumonia. Seniors should consider getting the higher dose flu shot that is designed to address the age-related decline of the immune system by triggering the body to produce more antibodies.
If you have questions about which vaccination is best for you and your family members, contact your doctor or pharmacist for guidance.