Maybe you were busy the day your office offered free flu shots. Maybe you simply forgot. Maybe you purposefully held off, hoping that enough other people would get the vaccine to protect you somehow. But now that we’re in full swing of flu season and surrounded by coughing and wheezing coworkers, friends, and random people on the bus or in grocery stores, choosing to forego the flu shot may seem like a bad idea. But is it too late?
The answer is both yes and no, according to Hannah Miller, MD, a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System. Ideally, people should get a flu shot two weeks before the virus hits their community. “But since we cannot predict when that is, we recommend you get the flu vaccine by the end of October,” Dr. Miller says. Flu season in the U.S. is in its height during the fall and winter, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the year’s flu vaccination in early autumn. According to data from past years, the flu typically hits a peak in December through February, with other peaks as early as October and as late as May, Dr. Miller says.
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While it’s best to get the flu shot as early as possible to protect yourself against those early waves of flu, pharmacies and doctors’ offices certainly won’t deny anyone a flu shot in the later months. You’ll be able to get a flu shot as late as May, if you want.
Still, getting the shot at the first sign of sickness in your neighbors isn’t exactly the best strategy. By then, you may have already come in contact with the virus, and the flu shot won’t do much to protect you. Even if you haven’t touched a germy-surface or breathed in a sick person’s sneeze prior to getting the shot, you won’t be protected for about two weeks after getting the vaccination. “Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu virus infection, it is best that people get vaccinated in time to be protected before flu viruses begin spreading in their community,” the CDC states.
And based on those peak times — if you’re wondering about getting one in February, definitely do. March, April? Still a good idea. You might want to work on lifestyle adjustments that build up your immune system over time, too. But the shot is a proven line of defense. If you happen to be pregnant, it’s extra-necessary — and yes, it’s safe.
So unless you’re able to quarantine yourself from your sickly community until summer rolls around, it’s best to get the vaccination before anyone starts looking sick. Still, any flu shot is better than none, even if we’re already past peak flu season. The influenza virus is unpredictable, according to the CDC, which means that this year’s peak flu season may be nothing like last year’s. And as long as there’s still a chance to get the flu, it’s still worth it to make your way to your local pharmacy to get the shot. Want another expert opinion? Several preschool teachers say it’s how they stay healthy during the germiest times of year — and that’s no easy feat.
Instead of self-care, let’s talk about self-maintenance — focusing on whatever it takes to get by.
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