So, you haven’t gotten a flu vaccine yet this season. You were busy, then there were the holidays, then there was that persistent sniffly nose that made you wonder if there was any point. Suddenly it’s February, people in your office are succumbing to the flu one by one, and you’re wondering: is it too late for me to get my flu shot?
Manufacturers have estimated that between 157 million and 168 million vaccinations will be produced for this flu season. Most will cover three strains of flu, but some for high-risk groups will also add a fourth. There are many kinds of flu that aren't covered by the vaccine, but every year the CDC tries to match the seasonal vaccine to the strains most likely to emerge during flu season.
Flu season lasts from around October through March every year, and the CDC recommends that people get the vaccine by the end of October. It takes about two weeks for our bodies to develop antibodies to the virus strains in the vaccine, so the sooner you get the shot the better.
But that doesn’t mean it’s too late. It’s not like all flu activity instantly ceases the second the clock strikes 12:01 on March 1st. Right now, influenza-like activity is high in 15 states, and moderate in 11 more states and Puerto Rico.
In California, which is classified as having moderate flu activity by the CDC, public health officials have noted that this year’s flu cases are severe—14 deaths occurred between the start of flu season and January 20th.
In a statement released in late January, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith said; “If you haven’t been immunized yet this season, getting flu shots for you and your family now can still help protect you this winter.”
The CDC recommends that everyone over six months old get the flu shot. Infants are exempt because their immune systems haven’t fully developed, but the rest of you have no excuse. Yeah, even you, lady with an egg allergy.
Because the vaccine is grown in eggs, people with egg allergies have typically been told that they have to be monitored for 30 minutes after getting a shot. But as of this season, the CDC has cleared people with mild egg allergies (they get hives, but nothing else) to receive the vaccine and walk on out. People with more severe egg allergies should get the shot in a medical setting like a hospital or doctor’s office, but are still encouraged to get it—unless their allergies are life-threatening.
And this isn't just about protecting yourself for the last few weeks of peak flu season. Your flu shot could save someone else's life. The more people that get vaccinated against the flu, the less likely a large flu epidemic is, and the less likely that people who can’t get the vaccine (like infants or people with compromised immune systems) will get ill. It also helps protect individuals in whom the vaccine might not work as well, like people over 65 years old.
The flu has hospitalized hundreds of thousands of Americans since 2010, and killed thousands in that time period. It’s serious business. So just not liking needles isn’t really a good enough excuse.
In previous years, people could opt for a nasal-spray vaccine instead, but last summer, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practicesvoted to stop using that form of the vaccine during the 2017-2017 flu season, because studies showed that it just wasn’t effective at protecting people from the flu. So unfortunately, getting this year's vaccine will most likely involve getting a shot.