Open Accessibility Menu

When to get a flu shot and other flu questions, answered

When to get a flu shot and other flu questions, answered

After three years of dealing with COVID-19 spikes and with the increasingly concerning rise of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), it can be easy to forget about influenza, more commonly known as the flu. This respiratory virus is still with us, and seasonal flu vaccination offers the best protection from one of many respiratory illnesses circulating this fall and winter. If you’re wondering when to get a flu shot, whether the vaccine will truly protect you and whether it’s worth the effort, we have answers for you.

When is the best time to get a flu shot?

Flu season in the U.S. runs from October to May, and the best time to get a flu shot is in September and October. Don’t stress, though, if you can’t get vaccinated early. The flu vaccine will still protect you if you get it later in the season.

Once you get the vaccine, it takes about two weeks for it to offer full protection, so keep that in mind if you have family gatherings coming up and you’re concerned about getting sick. Protection from the flu vaccine lasts about five to six months.

How effective is the flu shot at preventing illness?

The flu vaccine’s effectiveness varies year to year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2022-2023 flu vaccine was 52% effective in people during flu season in the southern hemisphere March to July 2023.

How it works for you has to do with two factors: your age and current health and how well the flu vaccine combats circulating strains of the virus.

Your age and current health

Older adults (age 65+) have weaker immune systems, and they are more likely to have chronic conditions that increase their risk of complications from the virus. For better protection, the CDC recommends people in this age group get a high-dose flu vaccine.

Vaccine-virus match

Each year, scientists study flu activity in other regions to determine which strains of the flu will most likely appear during our flu season. They then create a flu vaccine that targets those strains.

When the match is good, the vaccines offer 40% to 60% protection. However, viruses can change over time, reducing the flu vaccine’s effectiveness.

Should I get vaccinated every year?

The CDC recommends everyone age 6 months and older get a vaccine every year. Even if the vaccine doesn’t offer 100% protection, there are many other reasons to get vaccinated.

  • The flu vaccine can reduce the severity of your symptoms if you get sick.
  • It can reduce your risk of developing a secondary infection, such as an ear infection, sinus infection or pneumonia.
  • People who get vaccinated but still get the flu have less risk of going to the hospital for treatment than people who didn’t get vaccinated.
  • The flu vaccine can lower your risk of flu-related complications. The flu can increase your risk of blood clots and make chronic conditions, including heart failure, diabetes and asthma, worse.
  • You protect your loved ones. People who get the flu vaccine are less likely to spread the virus to others.

When you get your flu shot, ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider whether you need a COVID-19 or RSV vaccine. After all, protecting your lungs nowadays takes extra effort. Staying up to date on all your vaccines will help you stay healthy all year.

Do you need a flu shot or other vaccine? Find a University Medical Center primary care provider who can help.