As we head into the holiday season, your mind may be dancing with to-do lists that include gift shopping, meal prepping, and party schedules—none of which have anything to do with getting a flu shot. But experts say now—as in, right now—is the best time to get yours, which is why you'll want to make a trip to your doctor a priority. Peak flu season hits in November, explains Nate Favini, M.D., medical lead at Forward. And because the flu shot takes up to two weeks to offer protection, October is the ideal time to get yourself inoculated, he says.
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But if you haven't lined up an appointment with your primary care physician or slotted time in your schedule to head to your local pharmacy (most chains, including CVS and Walgreens, offer insurance-covered shots!), don't fret. Dr. Favini says that when it comes to the flu vaccine, it's better late than never. "As long as there is still circulating flu, it's not too late to get protection from a shot," he notes. In fact, even if you get the flu, it's still a good idea to get a follow-up shot. As Dr. Favini says, "remember that you had one strain [of flu], but multiple strains may circulate in a given season."
Almost all people can benefit from a flu shot, says Lisa Lewis, M.D., board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. But it's most important that children younger than five, people older than 65, pregnant women, and those who suffer from asthma and chronic illness—think diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and disorders of the immune system—get them, she says. These people have the most difficulty fighting off the flu.
Even if you're a healthy, young adult and think you don't need it, Dr. Favini recommends getting a shot. "Getting vaccinated contributes to what's called 'herd immunity,'" Dr. Favini explains. "The more people that get vaccinated, the less likely a severe influenza epidemic becomes. This helps protect more vulnerable people like young babies who can't get the flu shot and seniors who are more likely to become very ill with the flu. Your shot can save the life of someone you know."
The only time you shouldn't get a flu shot is if you're sick. "If a person gets a vaccine while ill, their immunity may be impaired causing worsening of the underlying condition that is present—and also, the vaccine may not work as well," says Dr. Lewis. If you're sick, wait at least 48 hours after your symptoms subside to get a flu shot, she recommends, to maximize its benefits.