Mind & Body

When's the Right Time to Get Your Flu Shot?

You're going on with your life, minding your own business, when you see it: a brand-new sign at the pharmacy telling you to get your flu shot. Is it that time already? Didn't you just see those signs a few months ago? Do you have to do this all over again? The influenza vaccine is plagued by myths and misinformation, but never fear: Here's exactly when you should get your flu shot, and why.

Related Video: Why Do People Get Sick When the Seasons Change?

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

In a recent thread on Twitter, Dr. Katherine Crocker of Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health answered questions from the public about flu shots. In response to a question about the best time to get the flu shot, she said, "If you get it sometime in October, you're all set. Personally I start telling myself to get it in mid-September, because I'm a forgetful person and hate the flu."

This lines up with the CDC's recommendations, which say to get your flu shot by the end of October. If you forget, no big deal: "Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout flu season, even into January or later."

The idea here is that flu generally starts to spread as the weather cools down, partially because the influenza virus has a protective coating that needs cold temperatures to stay intact. You want to be protected from the virus before that happens, and it takes about two weeks post-flu shot before your body has built up its protective store of antibodies. Children between 6 months and 8 years old need two doses spaced four weeks apart, so they should start even earlier — basically as soon as that year's vaccine is available.

Timing Is Everything

In that case, shouldn't everyone just get their shot the minute it's available? That is to say, is there such a thing as getting your flu shot too early? There's some evidence to say yes. A study published this month in Clinical Infectious Diseases found that a person's likelihood of contracting influenza increased by about 16 percent for every month after their vaccination. In this case, the early bird doesn't catch the worm — but it might just catch the flu.

Still, if you got your shot early, there's no reason to be alarmed. Other studies show that most people still have a sizable antibody army even after more than nine months. Getting your flu shot is just a good idea, no matter when it happens.

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

The flu isn't harmless. Want proof? Check out "The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History," a New York Times bestseller by John M. Barry. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer September 28, 2018

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.