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Experts say getting a flu shot now can benefit you, your family, and healthcare facilities. Studio4/Getty Images
  • Experts say getting a flu shot now can bolster your immune system early before the flu season is fully under way.
  • They say even people who are relatively healthy should get the vaccination to prevent spreading the disease to others.
  • They also note that flu vaccinations help keep the healthcare system from becoming overloaded.

The best time to get your annual flu shot is now.

That’s the advice from experts who say the beginning of autumn is not too early to get your annual vaccination against influenza.

“From now on through October into the first couple of weeks in November is the optimal time to be vaccinated against the flu,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting the flu shot by the end of October to prepare for peak influenza season, which is typically in February.

The CDC has this recommendation in place for anyone above the age of 6 months.

Schaffner tells Healthline that, even if you don’t get vaccinated by the end of October, it’s not too late.

Schaffner said the 2021-2022 flu season will be different from last year’s, because we’re in a different place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Let’s look over our shoulder for a moment. Last flu season was the lowest flu season in anyone’s memory. We think that was because of all the COVID-related shut-ins,” Schaffner said.

He noted that many people didn’t go to an office for work, people wore masks and washed their hands, and children didn’t physically go to school.

“When children are infected with the flu virus, they produce very large amounts of virus, more so than do adults, and they also shed the virus for longer periods of time,” Schaffner said.

He explained that, as children interact among themselves, they spread the virus and then bring it home to their families.

“All the children are back in school, many of them unmasked. Many adults are unmasked. They’re going out to work again, to entertainment venues, religious services, and the like,” Schaffner said.

“The opportunity is there once again for the influenza virus to start spreading rather widely,” he added. “I can’t tell you whether it’ll be mild, moderate, or severe, but we will have the flu.”

We’ve all heard so much about COVID-19, Schaffner noted, that it’s a good time to remind people of the seriousness of influenza.

“Influenza is a separate respiratory virus that’s very, very nasty. It creates in and of itself a huge surge in hospitalizations and deaths every year,” Schaffner explained.

“The deaths are concentrated in older people and younger people who have underlying illnesses, but everyone can be a flu spreader,” he added.

Even still, there are some people who believe they are healthy enough not to need the flu shot.

“That comment translates to ‘I’m fine being sick for a week with flu, because I don’t think I will be hospitalized,’” Dr. David J. Cennimo, FACP, FAAP, FIDSA, an infectious disease specialist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told Healthline.

Cennimo explained that, every year, some people “who thought they were very healthy still get very sick.”

“They may become infected and become the vector that spreads the virus and infects a more vulnerable person,” he said.

Getting the flu shot protects not only yourself, but also everyone around you, Cennimo noted.

Schaffner said one of the most common reasons people have for not getting the flu shot is that it isn’t that effective.

“I like to paraphrase that old French philosopher Voltaire, who reminds us that waiting for perfection is the great enemy of the current good. The current vaccines are the best that current science can produce for us this flu season, and they will prevent thousands of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths,” he said.

“Although it’s not perfect, it can make your illness milder, and we can all benefit from that,” Schaffner added.

Right now, as COVID-19 is still a big part of everyday life and is overloading the healthcare system, keeping yourself protected through vaccinations is the best way to do your part.

“If we do have a substantial outbreak of influenza, it’s going to strain our already very strained healthcare system even more,” he said.

“As we have seen with COVID-19, people can have the flu, not realize it and gravely affect someone vulnerable, like the elderly, children, and those who have an impaired immune system, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and people with HIV or pulmonary disease,” Cennimo said.

“Anything we can do as individuals to help protect our healthcare system we ought to do, and what we can do is get vaccinated against both the flu and COVID,” Schaffner added. “They are quite different germs, so we need different vaccines to prevent them.”

The CDC has removed the initially suggested 2 week spacing between a COVID-19 vaccine and other shots, so you can actually get a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccination at the same time, Cennimo said.