What is the Best Time to Get the Flu Shot?

Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP
October 10, 2020
4 min read

A Shot At A Healthier Future

Not sure when it’s the right time to get a flu shot? If you’re seeing Halloween decorations or Halloween candy at the drugstore, it’s a good indication it’s time to get one. While we have a tendency to procrastinate, try not to wait, especially this year. This flu season is unique because we’re battling not one, but two serious and contagious illnesses at the same time and only one of them has a vaccine (and you can get it without delay at Carbon Health). Protect yourself, your family, and your community by getting vaccinated today.

The seasonal flu is detected year-round, but it peaks in the fall and winter. In the United States, flu cases start to rise in October and can remain elevated until May. Historically, the flu peaks most often in February, followed by December, January, and March. The peak month varies from year to year but is defined as the month that has the most confirmed respiratory specimens for influenza infections. You want to make sure you and your family get vaccinated at a time that is most likely to keep you protected during the peak season.

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While drugstores and clinics have made the flu vaccines available earlier and earlier each year, it is possible to get the flu vaccine too early, making it less effective. Some evidence suggests that antibodies start to decline four to six months after receiving the flu shot, especially in people over the age of 65. This means if you get the flu shot in August, its benefit may decrease by December, potentially leaving you vulnerable for peak season.

A Side Shot of the Flu Vaccine with your Breakfast

Older people show a reduced age-related immune response to the vaccine, and researchers have tried to find ways to improve this response. Efforts have included adding adjuvants to vaccines, or agents that enhance the immune response, as well as recommending behavioral interventions, such as aerobic exercise prior to vaccination. Recent research suggests the immune system’s response to a viral antigen or vaccine depends on the time of day. A large randomized controlled trial showed older people produced a greater antibody response after vaccination when they received the vaccine in the morning hours as opposed to the afternoon. Therefore, it might be better to make the trip to the drugstore or clinic before or after breakfast rather than waiting until after lunch.

Keeping Kids Healthy

The flu shot is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months who does not have any contraindicating factors. Kids who are under the age of 9 and getting the vaccine for the first time or kids who have only received one dose of the vaccine prior to July 1, 2020, should get two doses of the vaccine, given four weeks apart. In order to make sure that they are protected for peak season, they should receive the first dose in late September or early October. They won’t be fully protected until two weeks following the second dose.

The Flu and Pregnancy: What You Should Know

Pregnant and postpartum people should get the inactivated flu vaccine during early fall, no matter what trimester they are in. This is important because pregnant and postpartum people are at a significantly higher risk of complications from the flu due to physiological changes in their heart, lung, and immune function. The live attenuated influenza vaccine is not recommended during pregnancy.

Creating an Antibody Army to Protect Your Body

While it’s better to get the flu shot any time versus not getting one at all, you want to remember that there’s a lag time from when you get the shot to when it starts to work. When you get the vaccine, it takes your immune system approximately 2 weeks to produce protective antibodies, or specialized proteins designed to target specific viral antigens. Antibodies are essentially our bodies’ foot soldiers. During those two weeks, you are not fully protected, so this is another reason you want to get the vaccine in October and not during those peak months.

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Caesar Djavaherian, MD, MS, FACEP

Caesar Djavaherian, MD FACEP, is the Chief Clinical Innovation Officer at Carbon Health. 


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