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As COVID-19 continues to dominate the news, another seasonal battle is waiting to rear its ugly head: Influenza. Experts agree that the best way to protect yourself from catching the flu is to vaccinate. But when’s the best time to get a flu shot?

The answer isn’t “one size fits all.” Flu season typically begins around the month of October and can last through May. Its peak is usually in February, where hospitals and doctor’s offices see the most patients with flu symptoms. That’s why many doctors recommend getting your flu shot in October, so it can be protective through the peak of flu season.

Since it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to start working in your system, you want to be sure to get your flu shot before the flu starts spreading in your community. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends all people get their flu shot by the end of October. If you get it too early, like July or August, it may not protect you to the end of the flu season.

senior woman getting flu shot from doctor

Who should get a flu shot?

The CDC recommends that all people over the age of 6 months should get a flu shot each year. Most people will only need one dose of the shot to carry them through flu season, but children may need two doses to make sure they’re building immunity.

Getting your flu shot is especially important if you are high risk for developing influenza or flu-related illnesses. This includes people over the age of 65 and adults with chronic health conditions such as:

Women who are pregnant and babies under the age of 6 months are also high risk for contracting the flu. However, babies under 6 months old cannot receive a flu vaccine, so the best way to protect them is to form a cocoon around them by making sure the whole family and anyone who may care for baby is vaccinated.

doctor pulling vaccine out of vial with needle and syringe.

What types of flu vaccines are there?

Most people will opt for some variation of the flu shot, which is a shot given through a needle in your upper arm. The shot can make your arm a little sore and some people may spike a low-grade fever as a side effect. However if this happens, it’s important to remember the flu vaccine didn’t make you sick. Learn about some of the common myths of vaccines to see why the flu shot doesn’t give you the flu.

There is a special flu shot with a heightened dose created for people over the age of 65. This shot helps create a strong immune response, offering more protection for those at higher risk of contracting the flu.

If you don’t’ want to receive a shot, there is a flu vaccine nasal spray. It is just as effective as the shot.

All of the flu vaccines protect you from four strains of flu. For the 2020-21 season, you will have protection against an influenza A (H1N1) virus, influenza A (H3N2) and two influenza B viruses.

man wearing flu mask, gray shirt and background

Protect yourself from the flu and COVID-19

It’s been a whirlwind year for viruses. COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way many of us treat getting sick, but has brought some good habits such as hand washing, social distancing and a reminder to stay home when we’re not feeling well. We’ve been accustomed to these practices for the last several months, so let’s continue to follow these recommendations during this upcoming flu season.

If your doctor prescribes you an antiviral medication, take it. Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and wash your hands often with soap and water. Stay home if you are sick. If you’re severely ill, make sure you seek medical attention and don’t avoid going to the hospital or a doctor’s office for fear of getting COVID-19. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Most importantly – GET VACCINATED. While we wait on a COVID-19 vaccination, we know the flu vaccine will help lower the risk of you having to go to the doctor for flu symptoms by 40-60%. Getting your flu vaccine protects you from the spread of influenza and greatly reduces the chance you’ll have to be hospitalized. Learn more about the effectiveness of the flu shot on the CDC website.

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