- Vaccine experts usually say that it is best to get a flu shot in late October or early November.
- A leading flu expert who helps us design our annual vaccinations says you might want to get yours earlier in 2022.
- He has a hunch that the flu season might hit earlier than usual this year.
Richard Webby knows what the flu is doing.
As one of the world’s leading flu experts, he makes recommendations to the World Health Organization each year to help vaccine manufacturers decide which flu strains to include in our annual vaccinations. His laboratory at the Children’s Research Hospital of St. Jude in Tennessee is also studying the flu and bird poop, hoping to prevent the next flu pandemic.
So when Webby says she’s recommending family and friends get the flu shot earlier than usual this year, it’s worth paying attention.
“Maybe this year it’s a better idea to come out, do it sooner rather than later,” Webby told Insider, adding that she plans to get her own shot “very, very early in October.”
It’s still impossible to know exactly what will happen during the U.S. flu season this year, and when you might be most vulnerable to the infection, but Webby said there are at least two clear reasons why she’s getting her own vaccine imminently, rather than waiting for several. more weeks
Reason 1: Flu cases peaked in Australia and New Zealand
Vaccine experts have traditionally recommended that people in the northern hemisphere get a flu shot in late October or November in order to maintain a good level of protection throughout the flu season, which can last well into springtime
But given what happened during this year’s Southern Hemisphere winter, Webby said it may be wise to get the flu shot as soon as possible.
Flu activity in Australia picked up earlier this year, with cases peaking in late May and early June, rather than July and August, which are the coldest months when flu cases usually go below:
Webby said it’s possible the same type of scenario could play out in the northern hemisphere.
“We might expect activity to pick up a little earlier than usual, back to pre-pandemic levels,” he said. “My intention is that if there is going to be an early flu season, this will be it.”
Reason 2: Most of us haven’t had the flu in a while
Masking, distancing and other measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 basically eliminated the flu for a while.
“Because we haven’t had the flu in two years, in general, population immunity is a little bit lower, and that allows the virus to circulate at times that are not normally optimal for it,” Webby said.
This could be part of the reason why the flu peaked in Australia and New Zealand. Infectious disease experts are seeing the same phenomenon with other seasonal viruses, such as RSV.
Not all experts are worried about an early flu peak yet. Florian Krammer, a virologist at Mount Sinai in New York, says he’ll do what he does every year and get a flu shot at the end of November, unless flu activity increases dramatically where he lives before. Part of the reason for their wait-and-see approach is that the 2021-2022 flu season stretched into late May and early June in some areas of the US.
“It’s always a bit of a trade-off,” Webby said. “There’s some data that suggests that at the end of the flu season, the effectiveness of a flu vaccine is declining a little bit. So it’s kind of this battle between getting it too early or getting it too late “.
Don’t sweat the exact timing: Any flu shot is better than nothing
If you got your flu shot “too soon,” it’s still OK. Research shows that flu shots can still help make your case of the flu milder, even if you get sick later.
The antiviral drug Tamiflu also helps shorten the course of an illness (when prescribed within the first 48 hours of infection) and reduces the chances of developing dangerous complications such as pneumonia. Tamiflu may also be prescribed preventively for people who have been exposed to other people with the flu, such as family members who live in the same household.