With all the things piled up on your to-do list, being able to cross off “get a flu shot” months ago probably made you give yourself a nice little pat on the back for all that #adulting. Well, while it’s great that you took your health into your hands early—the CDC recommends getting your flu shot by the end of October, after all!—it turns out now’s the time people should actually be getting poked.
According to the New York Times, the efficacy of the flu vaccine waves by 20 percent every month after you get it. And because it starts at only 60 percent, Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said anyone who got their shot in August or September isn’t going to be as protected when the flu virus strikes in mid-December as those who get their shots in mid-November. So does getting the early bird special mean you’re out of luck this flu season? Not exactly.
It can be hard for medical experts to predict when the flu season will start and peak, and that’s exactly why Michelle Barron, MD, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, says the most important thing to remember about flu shots is to just get one in general. Even though there’s evidence that the immunity might diminish over time, having it in your system in general is better than not and can still keep you safe.
“Let’s say you got your flu shot in August or September and the flu doesn’t start circulating until December. Even though there may be a theoretical reduction in the protective immunity of the vaccine, you still have immunity and it’s still less likely that you’ll get the flu,” Dr. Barron tells me. “If you do still get the flu, it will be a milder case and you’ll be less likely to be hospitalized than if you hadn’t received a flu vaccine at all.”
“Even though there may be a theoretical reduction in the protective immunity of the vaccine, you still have immunity and it’s still less likely that you’ll get the flu.” —Michelle Barron, MD
If you’re still scared about exposure, there are some tricks Dr. Barron recommends for staying flu-free—and no, it doesn’t involve getting another shot. “It’s always a good idea to wash your hands or use alcohol-based sanitizers frequently, stay hydrated, and attempt to avoid individuals who are sick. Also, around the holidays, be cautious of the candy or chip bowl that has likely had lots of hands touching the food,” she says. Because if you have your flu shot, it sounds like what’s lurking in that double-dipped guac might be much more scary anyway.
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