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Experts say adults and children should be vaccinated against the flu as early as possible. Getty Images
  • There’s a reported delay of 70 million flu shots as the vaccine is recalibrated to match this year’s influenza season.
  • However, experts say the delay shouldn’t affect overall immunization, since most people wait until later in the fall to get the shot.
  • Experts still urge everyone to get vaccinated as early as possible.
  • Many pharmacies have an ample supply of flu vaccines despite the production delay.

Federal officials have announced that 70 million flu shots are being delayed this fall, but medical experts suggest this could actually help rather than hinder vaccinations for this year’s influenza season.

“There is concern that because of the delay, you’ll miss some people… but to be honest, not everyone gets in right away [for the flu shot] like we want them to,” said Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, also known as the Seattle Mama Doc, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

In such cases, a manufacturer’s delay isn’t likely to make a major difference.

“So many children and adults will be getting immunized in October and November and December and January, and we typically continue to immunize all the way through April and into May,” Swanson told Healthline.

The delay is due to a reformulation of the flu shots. It affects Fluzone Quadrivalent, Fluzone High-Dose, and Flublok Quadrivalent, three formulations that make up about 40 percent of the market.

“There are two different strains that are new in the vaccine this year, meaning that last year’s immunization doesn’t cover you for this season, and the two influenza A strains that are in the Quadrivalent vaccine, for example, those have both been changed,” Swanson explained.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states the vaccine updates will better match the circulating viruses that threaten our health this season.

This isn’t the first time flu vaccines have been postponed for these kinds of updates. A similar situation occurred in 2003.

“Every year, the [World Health Organization] and the [Food and Drug Administration] work diligently to choose the strains that are most likely to pose a threat for the upcoming season’s vaccine. And that can be tricky,” said Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MACP, the interim chief medical and scientific officer at the American Cancer Society.

“This year, experts waited a few weeks to make sure they chose the best one they could,” he told Healthline.

Moreover, Lichtenfeld says, the delay doesn’t mean a shortage. It means a more effective vaccine.

“I don’t see this short delay having an impact, since the vaccine is currently available from some vaccine makers. It’s potentially far more important to have the most effective flu vaccine we can, and our focus now should simply be to make sure people get vaccinated,” he said.

Early vaccination is still the best way to prevent flu transmission.

“The philosophy on immunizations is you always want to be vaccinated as early as you can, so that when or if you are exposed to an infection, you’re protected,” Swanson said.

“When it comes to the flu vaccine, most research really indicates that 2 weeks after vaccinating, you’re protected. So in an ideal world, you always want to be at least 2 weeks ahead of the spread of flu,” Swanson said.

However, we don’t always know when the flu season will start, or who it will affect the hardest.

“That’s the unpredictability piece,” Swanson said.

This is why pediatricians suggest getting school-aged children vaccinated by Halloween.

“Now’s the time to make an appointment and find out, ‘Does your clinic have supply?’” Swanson said. “If it doesn’t, then make an appointment for when they believe they’ll have it.”

For children under 9 who have never had the vaccine before, don’t forget they’ll need a repeat dose 4 weeks after their first immunization, Swanson adds.

For families in this situation, getting vaccinated as early as possible is particularly important.

“That’s the population I, in some ways, worry the most about,” Swanson said. “If they can’t get that first dose now, they’re getting their first dose, and then they still have to wait an additional month thereafter.”

“What is really important is for everyone who can get the vaccination do so now, or when it’s available. That is an important, generous gesture,” Lichtenfeld said. “The more people who get vaccinated, the less chance the flu will spread to those for whom it could quite literally be life-threatening.”

Swanson reminds us that pregnant women, children with diabetes and asthma, and anyone over the age of 65 are vulnerable to the life-threatening risks of influenza.

Swanson encourages everyone to call your local pharmacy and inquire about their supply.

Megan Boyd, manager of healthcare communications at Walgreens, says her company has plenty of flu vaccine on hand.

“[Walgreens has] sufficient vaccine available in all of its pharmacies and healthcare clinics nationwide, including Duane Reade pharmacies and Walgreens-owned Rite Aid pharmacies,” Boyd told Healthline.

To date, Walgreens currently offers four-strain flu vaccines to anyone 7 years and older, vaccines designed for seniors 65 and older, and preservative-free flu vaccine options if you’re pregnant or allergic to thimerosal/mercury.

Boyd also says these flu shots are free for patients with certain insurance, and drop-ins are welcome during pharmacy and clinic hours.