We know; you're still hanging on to the last few days of summer, but flu season is right around the corner.
Photo: Tom Merton / Getty Images
The rumors are true: Flu season is officially on its way. It's hard to wrap your head around, we know—it's still more sweaty weather than sweater weather, after all. But doctors are already warning that it's not too early to get your flu shot for the season. (Get up to date on everything you need to know about the CDC's guidelines for the 2018–2019 flu season here.)
When should you get the flu shot?
How early should you get the flu shot? Like now, according to the experts. "The best time to get vaccinated is late September," says Darria Long Gillespie, M.D., an ER doctor and author of Mom Hacks. Though peak flu season typically doesn't hit until December, "you want to ensure you have protection before the season arrives—as early as October—and still be protected through the end of the season, which can be as late as May."
If you wait until people in your office start getting sick to get your shot, it might already be too late. "It takes two weeks for you to build an immunity to the virus," says Dr. Gillespie. And during that window, you're still susceptible to getting sick. "You want to have ample time so that you're protected before the first wave of the flu illness starts to hit," she says. In other words, it pays to be prepared. (Related: Americans Should Be Taking More Sick Days)
How late can you get the flu shot?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends stopping by your doctor's office or local health clinic to get your flu shot by the end of October. But if you get too caught up with Halloween plans and miss the deadline, you should still go as soon as you can—it's technically never too late to get your flu shot.
"While it is recommended to get your flu shot as soon as it is available, getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial," explains Papatya Tankut, a registered pharmacist and vice president of pharmacy affairs at CVS Health. Peak flu season is between December and February, so even if you don't get your shot until Thanksgiving, you'll still be protected from the worst of it. CVS offers vaccinations all season long (as long as supplies last). And that's something to be aware of—doctors' offices and pharmacies can run out of flu shots early in the season.
Can you get the flu shot even after getting the flu?
Okay, so you didn't get your flu shot and then you got sick—at least now you can't get the flu again right?
No such luck. Turns out you can get the flu more than once in one season because there are multiple strains of the virus. However, "the vaccine protects against multiple strains of the flu," says Tankut. (Each year, the CDC predicts which strains of the virus will be the nastiest for the upcoming season and formulates the vaccine to fight the most common.) "Getting vaccinated, even after you've already come down with the flu, can prevent future infection from another strain of the virus," she explains.
Where can you get the flu shot?
You have two main options: Your doctor, or your local pharmacy.
Most doctors offer the shot (or the nasal spray, which is approved by the CDC again this season to fend off the flu).
If you'd rather not deal with the hassle, pharmacies around the country, including CVS and Walgreens, offer the vaccines in-store—most insurance plans will even cover it. "The flu vaccine is now available at all CVS Pharmacy and MinuteClinic locations nationwide," says Tankut. "No appointment is necessary."
We get it: Getting your flu shot can seem like a pain in the you-know-where, especially when you're otherwise healthy. But as last season's viciousness proves, the flu can be serious—more people were hospitalized for the flu last season than ever recorded. "Getting a flu shot is the most effective way to protect yourself and your family from catching the flu," says Tankut. Why risk it?