With a bad flu season possibly ahead, experts and officials say it’s crucial for people to get their flu vaccinations this fall.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people get their flu shots before the end of October.
September and October are “generally good times to get vaccinated,” the CDC says on its website. Ideally, the agency says, people should get vaccinated by the end of October, but it also noted that “vaccination after October can still provide protection during the peak of flu season.”
Experts are worried that flu may hit hard this year after Australia, which is just emerging from its winter, had its worst flu season in five years.
“There is a concern we could be in for a tough flu season based on Australia’s experience this year. This may be due to low flu incidence the past few years, which could have allowed our immune response to the influenza virus to weaken,” said Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Sax said he would recommend that people wait a little to get the flu shots, which lose their effectiveness over time. “I recommend waiting until mid-late October to get the flu shot at the earliest, as peak flu season typically happens December-February, so now would still be a bit early,” he said in an e-mail.
Federal officials last week suggested that people get flu shots at the same time as they get their updated, bivalent COVID-19 vaccines.
“The good news is you can get both your flu shot and COVID shot at the same time. It’s actually a good idea. I really believe this is why God gave us two arms — one for the flu shot and the other one for the COVID shot,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said last week at a White House press briefing.
Many people are eligible to get the new COVID-19 shot right now and might piggyback the flu shot on to it.
But some experts interviewed by STAT News suggested early September was too soon. They said they were going to wait for their flu shots till October — or longer — unless they see reports of flu activity rising in their area.
“I’ll follow very carefully the activity in the community,” Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told STAT. “If it starts to pick up, I’ll move immediately. Otherwise I’m counting on sometime in late October, early November.”
Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an assistant professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine and an infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center, said that traditionally the recommended time to get a flu shot is October. But, she said, people shouldn’t worry about timing — the key is to get the shot any way you can.
“Given what we know has happened in the Southern Hemisphere this year, it’s going to be critical to get as many people as possible vaccinated for the flu this year,” she said, noting that the flu hits particularly hard among the elderly and the very young.
“To get optimal coverage, yes, you could consider getting vaccinated around October, but if you have an opportunity now to get vaccinated, yes, get vaccinated,” she said.
“Prevention is key. Just getting it is what’s important, as opposed to worrying too much about the timing,” she said.
“I think what [federal officials] were trying to do is to make it a simple message,” she said. “Simple is the best way to do this. Please get your flu shot this year.”
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.