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Most Americans over 6 months are recommended to get the flu shot this fall. Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images
  • The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee recommends that everyone 6 months or older receive a flu vaccine unless they can’t for health reasons.
  • Several vaccines are available, which are equally effective. Some may be better suited for certain people.
  • People at high risk of flu complications should be vaccinated, including older adults, pregnant people, and those with certain chronic medical conditions.

With fall just around the corner, health experts say it’s time for Americans to start thinking about getting vaccinated to protect themselves from the seasonal flu virus.

Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, said it’s difficult to predict what kind of flu season we will have because this depends on a number of factors.

But “we can expect there’s going to be at least an average flu season,” he told Healthline. And with this in mind, “vaccines become more important.”

The vaccine advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people ages 6 months and older receive a seasonal flu vaccine unless they can’t due to health reasons.

This recommendation is especially important for people who have a higher risk of developing serious flu complications, including:

  • adults 65 years or older
  • pregnant people (flu can also be harmful to the fetus)
  • people with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease
  • children younger than 2 years old
  • people with a weakened immune system
  • people who live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility

This year’s vaccines target four strains of influenza virus. Experts expect these strains to be circulating widely, although others may also be spreading in the community.

Four pharmaceutical companies offer the vaccines, including higher-dose vaccines and a nasal vaccine.

“Clinically, these are all very effective,” said Cutler, “And they’re all deemed to be safe.”

If people have questions about which one to choose, they can consult with their primary care doctor, he added, “to see if their particular situation warrants getting one vaccine over the others.”

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) said in the August 25 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that it does not recommend one particular vaccine. Instead, people should choose an age-appropriate vaccine recommended by their healthcare provider.

However, adults ages 65 years or older should receive one of the higher-dose or adjuvanted influenza vaccines whenever possible, the ACIP said. These provide better protection for older adults, who may have a weaker response to standard flu vaccines.

Dr. Sherrill Brown, medical director of infection prevention at AltaMed Health Services in California, said the nasal flu vaccine, which is available for people ages 2 through 49 years, “may be beneficial for those with a fear of needles.”

Some children between 6 months and 8 years, such as those who are receiving the vaccine for the first time, may need two doses, given at least four weeks apart. If you are unsure how many doses your child needs, ask their pediatrician.

“Timing is critical with the flu vaccine if you want it to be optimally effective,” said Cutler, “because its potency lasts for about four months.”

This means most people should get the flu shot in September and October. This will ensure their immune protection is high when the flu season peaks, which the CDC said generally happens between December and February.

The flu season, though, can vary from year to year, with some years having significant flu activity well into spring. Flu activity may also peak at different times in different parts of the country.

So “my recommendation is when you start hearing about increasing numbers of flu cases in your area, that’s when you want to get the flu vaccine,” said Cutler. “However, if you haven’t gotten it by the first of November, you should probably get it then.”

If you wait longer, you can still get vaccinated, if the flu is still circulating in the community and there are still vaccine doses available.

For children who will be receiving two doses of the vaccine, they should get their first dose as soon as possible after the vaccine is available, including during July and August. This will give them enough time to receive the second dose before the peak of flu season.

In addition, “pregnant individuals should be vaccinated prior to the start of flu season and prior to delivery — ideally in their 3rd trimester — in order to pass on protective antibodies to their unborn baby,” Brown told Healthline.

The ACIP said pregnant people who are in their third trimester during July and August can be vaccinated during these months.

Most flu vaccines, including the nasal vaccines, are manufactured using egg-based technology. As a result, they may contain small amounts of egg proteins.

However, a CDC study found that the risk of severe allergic reactions after the flu vaccine in people with egg allergies is “unlikely.”

So the ACIP recommends that all people aged 6 months or older with an egg allergy receive the flu vaccine.

“For those with a history of egg allergy, there is no longer a contraindication for flu vaccine,” said Brown, “and they may receive any available vaccine that is appropriate for their age.”

As a precaution, flu vaccines are given by a healthcare provider trained and equipped to handle potential allergic reactions after vaccination.

Cutler said one group of people who should not receive a flu vaccine are those who have had “significant allergic reactions” to a previous flu vaccine.

“For them, there are alternative therapies, such as antiviral medications, that they can use to protect themselves,” he added.

Flu antiviral drugs are available only by prescription. They are given as a liquid, an inhaled powder or an intravenous solution, and fight the virus once it is inside your body.

Most Americans over the age of 6 months should receive the flu vaccine, but especially those at high risk of flu complications.

Several flu vaccines are available, including higher-dose vaccines and a nasal vaccines. These are equally effective, but some may be a better option for certain people.

People with egg allergies can receive any of the flu vaccines, said the CDC, including those manufactured with egg-based technology.