Is now the right time? Or should you wait?
Influenza viruses, otherwise known as the flu, can spread year round, but flu season in the United States typically ramps up in October and lasts through May. Peak flu activity tends to peak between December and February. That may leave you wondering when you should get a flu shot—or if you even need one at all.
Who should get a flu shot?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older get a flu shot each year, with rare exceptions. People who are at a higher risk of developing serious flu complications are especially encouraged to get vaccinated against the flu. This annual shot is designed to target the strains of the influenza virus that are expected to be most prevalent each year. Since there are many strains of the virus, a flu shot doesn't guarantee you won't get the flu, but it makes it more likely you won't—or that your symptoms won't be as severe if you do.
When should you get a flu shot?
Ideally, you should get a flu shot sometime between the beginning of September and the end of October, but you can still get one later if you miss that window. Getting vaccinated earlier provides you with protection for a longer timeframe while the virus is circulating. However, some people prefer to get a flu shot later in the season because they feel it keeps them better protected during the peak months of flu activity. It's generally recommended that older adults not get vaccinated before September because protection against the virus may decrease over time. Children can get vaccinated as early as July or August, however. Women in their third trimester of pregnancy may also consider early vaccination to help protect their babies who cannot get vaccinated during the first six months of life.
Why do you need a flu shot? Isn't the flu just like a cold?
Although many people who get sick with the flu recover within days, the influenza virus is a potentially serious disease that can result in hospitalization or even death in some people. Each year, millions of people get the flu and hundreds of thousands of people wind up in the hospital due to complications from the virus. Getting a flu shot makes it less likely you'll get sick and has been shown to reduce the severity of illness if you do catch the virus.
Can you get a flu shot at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine or booster?
Yes, you can get the shots at the same time, according to the CDC. As of now, the two vaccines are given separately, but there is a possibility that they may be combined into one shot sometime in the future. Flu shots and COVID boosters are generally available from primary care providers, pediatricians, and local pharmacies. You can search for providers at vaccines.gov.
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Date Last Reviewed: August 17, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD