The fall season usually means the beginning of people wearing cozy sweaters, drinking pumpkin spice lattes, and catching the flu.
It’s something most people haven’t had to deal with for the past two years due to the pandemic. During the 2020-2021 flu season, flu activity was “unusually low,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), thanks to COVID safety measures such as more people wearing masks, increase hygiene by washing hands and staying at home. .
However, as life has begun to return to normal for many, flu cases are expected to increase this fall and winter, which is why experts recommend getting a flu shot.
But when exactly should you get one? And can you get the flu shot at the same time as the Omicron booster? Here’s what the experts say.
First of all, why do people need a flu shot every year?
The flu is actually caused by several different flu viruses. The two types of viruses responsible for most people getting seasonal flu are influenza A and influenza B, and each has its own subtypes and groups.
Because flu viruses are constantly changing, along with the fact that immunity wanes over time, the flu vaccine is reformulated every year for better protection. There is even an organization, the World Health Organization’s Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System, which was established in 1952, that monitors frequent changes in influenza viruses.
Dr. Pedro Piedra, a professor of molecular virology and microbiology and of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that it’s a “good global surveillance network that looks at what viruses are circulating and then makes the best estimate of needs. change the vaccine” of that year.
Piedra explains that, in general, the vaccine will have an “almost perfect match” to one of the strains in circulation. He adds: “It is always difficult to have a perfect vaccine for all the viruses that are circulating. But you don’t always have to have a perfect match to have cross protection.”
How effective is the flu vaccine?
Flu shots have been shown to reduce the risk of going to the doctor with the flu by 40% to 60%, according to the CDC. “The flu shot reduces the risk of severe flu symptoms, hospitalization, ICU admission, and death,” Dr. Riza Conroy, a family medicine physician at Wexner Medical Center in the Ohio State University.
The vaccine can also help protect those who are most vulnerable to complications from flu viruses, which typically target children ages 6 months to 5 years, as well as adults age 65 and older, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, the CDC claims that the flu shot can save children’s lives. A 2022 study found that the flu shot reduced children’s risk of life-threatening flu by 75 percent.
“Kids can die from the flu, too,” says Piedra. “In general, the children who have died from the flu have been children who have not been vaccinated.” He adds that “it’s not just the elderly” who can die from the flu. “Children are at increased risk of more serious complications, as are pregnant women.”
When is the best time to get a flu shot?
Although flu viruses are detected year-round, they circulate most widely during the fall and winter months. Conroy notes that the flu season “peaks from December to February, but it has also been seen to spike in cases around March, and it can still be felt through May.”
According to Conroy, “The best time to get a flu shot is around October,” so you’re protected for flu season, noting that the flu shot “is usually in full effect two weeks after receiving the vaccine.”
Peidra agrees that October is “a good month” to get vaccinated. But in general, experts say there’s no time like the present. “We’re already seeing flu activity this year,” says Peidra, “and it’s early.”
The flu shot is effective for about five to six months, Conroy notes.
Who should get the flu shot?
Everyone 6 months and older should get the age-appropriate flu shot, Conroy says, unless your health care provider tells you otherwise.
According to the CDC, there are several flu vaccines approved for use in people up to 6 months of age and older, while there are two vaccines approved only for adults 65 and older. The nasal flu vaccine, FluMist, is available for children and adults ages 2 to 49. It’s also worth noting that some children ages 6 months to 8 years need two doses of the flu vaccine.
Can you get the Omicron booster and the flu shot at the same time?
Yes, say the experts. “You can get the flu vaccine and the Omicron booster at the same time. There is no contraindication to giving the two vaccines together,” says Conroy,
However, if you have not yet received your recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC recommends getting them as soon as possible, followed by a flu shot in late October.
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