When to get a flu shot in 2021

Flu season and public health experts’ calls to get your flu shot come around every year, but it’s more important now than ever.

© Mario Tama/Getty Images A nurse administers a flu vaccination shot to a woman at a free clinic held at a local library in Lakewood, California, on October 14, 2020.

“What you should do is get it as soon as you can and in the most expeditious manner,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer Monday.

A potentially early and severe flu season could result from relaxed pandemic safety measures and the population’s reduced immunity to the flu after months of avoiding situations where viruses can spread, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

Flu season typically lasts from October to May in the Northern Hemisphere, and from April to September in the Southern Hemisphere, according to the CDC. The best time to get a flu vaccine — which reduces the risk of serious flu-related illness, hospitalization or death — is any time between September and the end of October, the CDC suggests.

“People who are older, with compromised immune systems, may have waning immunity, and so sometimes are (advised not) to get their flu vaccines too early,” said CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

“However, ‘too early’ generally refers to August. October — essentially now — is entirely fine for these individuals to get vaccinated.”

Even if flu activity is low in your community right now, you shouldn’t wait for a surge in cases to be the reason you get a flu shot. Flu activity could increase at any time, according to the CDC. “Remember, after you are vaccinated, your body takes about two weeks to develop any antibodies that protect against flu,” the CDC noted.

Getting your flu shot now can also help lessen the burden the health care system is facing as the pandemic continues. Some states — including Alabama, Georgia and Texas — have been running extremely low on intensive care unit capacity. (People with the flu can get sick enough to go to the hospital; during the 2019-2020 flu season there were 405,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths among children and adults combined, according to the CDC.)

This “can complicate the provision of medical care, including influenza treatment. We want to prevent every flu infection possible to keep patients out of hospitals and other potential COVID-19 exposures in healthcare,” said Dr. David J. Cennimo, the associate chief of staff of education at VA New Jersey Health Care System, via email. Cennimo is also an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Here’s what else you should know about getting your flu vaccine this season during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Do I need a flu shot if I’m vaccinated against Covid-19?

Some people think getting a flu or coronavirus vaccine reduces risks for both viruses, but that’s not the case, since these are different viruses, Wen said. Therefore, “getting a flu vaccine is the best protection against flu and its potentially serious complications, and getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19,” the CDC said.

This year’s flu vaccines are designed to protect against the four different flu viruses that research has indicated will be most commonly circulating, according to the CDC. Since there are many flu viruses that constantly change, the makeup of US flu vaccines is reviewed yearly and updated as needed.

Who can get a flu shot?

People ages 6 months and older should get a licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine or nasal spray flu vaccine before the end of October, according to the CDC. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, you shouldn’t delay vaccination for a specific vaccine product if another age-appropriate vaccine is available.

Where can I get a flu shot?

In addition to the offices of physicians, including pediatricians, you can get a flu vaccine many places, including local health departments, pharmacies, and sometimes your workplace or that of an immediate family member.

Can I get a flu shot and Covid-19 vaccine simultaneously?

You can get a flu vaccine and a Covid-19 vaccine at the same time, the CDC and other experts have said, which wasn’t the case last year. Whether this also goes for third doses and booster shots of Covid-19 vaccines, too, hasn’t been publicly addressed by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Cennimo said.

One reason why last year was different is because Covid-19 vaccines “were only authorized in December,” Wen said.

Also, they “were being actively studied for side effects,” Cennimo explained, and “the guidance to separate COVID (vaccines) from any other vaccine by 14 days was issued to allow any adverse effects to be accurately attributed to the vaccine. If you gave two vaccines together, you wouldn’t know which caused the problem.

“The data have evolved, and the vaccines are incredibly safe,” he added. “This increased the comfort using them so we can give them with other vaccines now and not worry.”

Whether getting both vaccines at the same time could cause worse symptoms depends on the person and how they tend to react to vaccinations, Wen said. “People who might be particularly worried could choose to space out their vaccines, but know that that’s not necessary to do, and that’s really just based on your individual comfort.”

If you do get both vaccines together, you’ll still need to follow your Covid-19 vaccine schedule to become fully vaccinated, which means getting your second dose of Pfizer three weeks later, or second dose of Moderna four weeks later.

If I wear a mask and practice physical distancing, should I still get a flu shot?

Even if you wear a mask and physically distance yourself from others, getting vaccinated against the flu and Covid-19 is still the best way to protect yourself and others, according to the CDC.

“Every individual intervention makes a difference, but the layers together are what protect us the most,” Wen said. “Think about the winter — you wear multiple layers. … Vaccination is also a powerful and important additional tool, and particularly important when we’re in the middle of a raging pandemic and when it comes to influenza, a virus that spreads easily and kills tens of thousands of people every year. We should do everything we can to prevent further illness, suffering and death.”

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