It can be hard to think of any illness other than COVID-19 right now, but flu shots are currently available in most major pharmacies and doctor’s offices across the country.
Walgreens is now asking people on its website to get a flu shot to “defend your crew,” while Rite Aid urges, “don’t wait.” CVS is offering a “$5 off $20 shopping pass” to people who get vaccinated in their locations, and says online that the flu shot is “more important than ever this year.”
While the influenza virus circulates all year, cases typically ramp up in October, peak between December and February, and taper off in March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the CDC adds, flu season can last as late as May.
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It’s still summer. Is it too soon to get vaccinated?
Experts say it really depends. In a perfect world, you’d get vaccinated between mid-September and late October, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “You don’t want to get vaccinated too soon, because the protection can wear off before the flu season dies down in March,” he says.
Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agrees. “There is some data to suggest that if you get a flu shot very early that, by the end of the season, it’s protection may wane,” he tells Yahoo Life. “But the goal is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
The CDC currently says online that “getting vaccinated in July or August is too early…September and October are good times to get vaccinated.”
But, if you can only get vaccinated now, experts say there might be one benefit. “Some people prefer to wait until later in the fall season — late September/early October—but then they run the risk of missing it. People can get busy and forget,” Dr. David Cennimo, assistant professor of infectious disease at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, tells Yahoo Life.
It’s a good idea to take your location into consideration too, Cennimo says. “In typical years, influenza hits the western U.S. earlier,” making it unlikely that people on the east coast would be exposed to the flu in August, he says. But, for people on the west coast, it may make more sense to get vaccinated on the earlier side, he says.
What do you need to know about getting one?
Once you decide when to get your flu vaccination, it’s important to think about how you’ll do it. While it varies on a company-by-company basis, many major organizations are still offering free flu shots to employees, Ari Cukier, chief operating officer at Affiliated Physicians, a flu vaccine provider for companies with more than 1,500 clients across the U.S., tells Yahoo Life.
Things will be slightly different this year, though. Cukier says his company is mandating personal protective equipment (PPE) for all staff and requiring that patients wear masks. They’re also doing temperature screenings and encouraging social distancing (when someone is not getting their vaccine). “Many events are being set up outdoors — in a tent in parking lots — instead of the typical conference room setup,” Cukier says.
When Cukier’s team does work indoors, they’re putting nurses in “larger-than-normal rooms” and only having one nurse work in each office space to minimize contact.
Cukier says there’s been a divide between smaller and larger companies with providing vaccines to employees. “Smaller companies can’t commit because they don’t know when, if and how many employees will be back in the office,” he says. “Mid and larger companies are committing to vaccine programs and planning on holding smaller events over extended periods of time. This will allow more flexibility for people who are set up remote to come into the office for a day if they want to.”
As a whole, Cukier says that companies “are expecting higher than normal uptake for those they can get to the office. It’s just a question of how or if they will get people to come to the office to get a shot.” Ultimately, it’s best to contact your office’s human resources department to see if they plan to offer flu vaccines this year.
When you do get vaccinated, whether it’s at a pharmacy, doctor’s office, or your work office, Schaffner says it’s important to cover your nose and mouth. “Make sure you wear your mask and that your healthcare provider is wearing a mask,” he says. If you’re especially nervous, he says that some areas are planning on hosting drive-through vaccinations, where you can get vaccinated in your car. (You can contact your doctor’s office or local hospital for more information.)
Overall, Adalja says you should feel safe getting your flu vaccine, provided you wear a mask and practice social distancing before and after your shot. “Plenty of people are going out and getting groceries — getting vaccinated is not any riskier than that,” he says.
And, if you can wait a few more weeks to get your shot — without forgetting about it entirely — it might be best to do just that.
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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