It seems the advertisements and public service announcements to get flu shots start earlier and earlier every year. But if you get the shot in August or September, are you protected for the entire flu season? This is a common concern since peak flu season typically begins ramping up in October and may last through May of the following year, according to the Centers 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 offering 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.
When Should a Senior get the Flu Shot?
The CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October before the season peaks. Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop and provide full immunity following the shot. It remains effective for up to one year, but the protective antibodies do 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 predicted to circulate during the upcoming season, which are often different from the viruses that were targeted in the previous 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. 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 production of more antibodies. If you have procrastinated and not received the vaccine by November or December, getting the shot may still be beneficial, even through January.
While the flu starts out with symptoms that may sound minor, like runny nose, coughing, sore throat, fever and body aches, they usually intensify very quickly. Advancing age often weakens the immune system and puts seniors at greater risk for serious complications from the flu like bronchitis, pneumonia, heart problems and even sepsis. It’s important to understand that the flu and resulting complications can be fatal. Complications are more likely in seniors who have chronic conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, diabetes and neurological conditions like dementia.
If you have questions about which vaccination is best for you and your family members, contact your doctor or consult a pharmacist for guidance.
Sources: Who Needs a Flu Vaccine and When (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccinations.htm); Can You Die from the Flu? (https://www.healthline.com/health/can-you-die-from-the-flu)