WASHINGTON — Clinics around the DMV are offering sign-ups for a COVID-19 booster and annual flu shot at the same time–but internet searches and conversations on social media show there’s confusion as to when that time should be.
Is it too early to get an annual flu shot?
Mid-September would not be considered too early for a flu shot by CDC guidance, though some doctors are saying waiting until October, to extend protection further into flu season, might be a good idea.
WHAT WE FOUND:
The effort to get updated COVID-19 boosters in arms ASAP is to get ahead of a possible fall or winter surge, but when it comes to rolling up the sleeves for a flu shot–when it’s not even sweater weather yet, people have questions.
“One of the most difficult things is we never know what flu season is going to be like, we really don't know when it's going to take off how long it's gonna last,” said MedStar infectious disease specialist Dr. Glenn Wortmann. “So you're sort of playing a numbers game.”
Flu shots change each year in an effort to target the strains scientists predict to be most prominent, and are effective for about six months.
The CDC advises against getting vaccinated too early, because protection may decrease over time—but defines “too early” as July or August.
The recommendation is to get vaccinated before the flu begins to spread in your area, and guidance says September and October are “generally good times” to get the shot.
So no, in mid-September it’s not too early to get an annual flu shot–however, since flu season can last well into the spring, Dr. Wortmann is among the doctors recommending an October vaccination for those who can wait.
“If flu season goes on until March, April, you might not have as much benefit from the flu shot towards the end of that season,” he said. “. So if you wait to get it until October timeframe, then your immunity would last longer until the spring.
But he and the CDC advise: it’s better to be a bit on the early side than to not get a vaccine at all.
“If there's a question, then you might not get it at all, because you're so busy, then it's better just to go ahead and get it now,” said Dr. Wortmann.
The CDC’s guidance explains “ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October,” but the guidance concludes vaccination even after that is recommended because flu season typically peaks in February–though that can vary around the country.
The CDC points to a study suggesting people who get both shots at once–a COVID-19 booster and a flu vaccine–were slightly more likely to experience side effects like fatigue and aches, but says reactions resolved quickly.
Anyone over six months old is eligible for both a flu shot and COVID-19 vaccination; the CDC says they can both happen at the same time, but don’t delay getting either shot just to try to get them done at the same time. Right now only kids over age 12 can get COVID-19 boosters.