The Oklahoman

Everything you need to know about getting your flu shot

- Alia E. Dastagir

No one knows what to expect of this year’s flu season. Last year, influenza virtually disappeare­d, in large part because of widespread adherence to COVID safety measures – social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing. But the nature of the flu – a notoriousl­y difficult disease to predict – as well as uncertaint­y around how a pandemicwe­ary nation will exercise caution this fall, make it impossible to know what lies ahead.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that, with rare exceptions, everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every season. Public health experts say vaccinatio­n is vital to protect individual­s, communitie­s and to avoid burdening already overtaxed health care systems.

“The big risk here is that our healthcare system has limited capacity. In the winter, it usually hits that capacity in many places absent COVID, and flu is often a big contributo­r,” Dan Salmon, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety and a professor in the Department of Internatio­nal Health at Hopkins University said during a press briefing on Sept. 22. “I’m not going to try to tell you what will happen in the fall, but what I will say is that we have really good vaccines for COVID. We have reasonably good vaccines for flu. We should use them both as widely as possible and hope that we don’t see co-pandemics that make things worse.”

USA TODAY spoke with Stephen Fadowole, a Walgreens pharmacist based in Chicago, and Linda Molaka, a CVS pharmacy manager based in Pembroke Pines, Florida, on what people need to know about the flu shot this year.

Question: When is the ideal time to get the flu shot?

Stephen Fadowole: Now is a great time to get your flu shot. The CDC recommends annual flu shots for everyone over 6 months of age before flu begins circulatin­g in communitie­s and by the end of October to help reduce spread of flu. It takes about two weeks after the vaccine for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.

Linda Molaka: Peak flu season is generally from December through February, so that’s why the end of October is a critical time. It’s important to make sure you get your shot by then. But we actually do begin vaccinatin­g patients as soon as the flu shot comes in, which is in August.

Q: Can I get my flu shot too early?

Fadowole: The CDC says that July or August may be too early to get your flu vaccine to ensure you get adequate protection for the entire season. However, if there’s a chance you may miss out on getting your flu shot, it’s better to get it a little early than not at all.

Molaka: It’s fine to get the flu shot anytime after the pharmacies begin offering them.

Q: What happens if I get the flu shot too late?

Fadowole: The risk of getting your flu shot too late is getting infected with flu before you’re protected. It’s also important to remember that it takes two weeks after the vaccine for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.

Molaka: As long as the virus is circulatin­g, you’ll need protection. There’s never really a too-late time, but of course you want the protection as early as possible.

Q: If a COVID booster is authorized, can I get the flu shot at the same time?

Molaka: The CDC allows us to give multiple vaccines at the same time. So you can get your flu shot. You can get your booster. You can get your first dose, second dose or additional dose with the flu shot. We are able to give them at the same time. There’s no waiting period.

Q: If I get them at the same time, will I potentiall­y have more side effects?

Fadowole: According to the CDC, side effects of vaccines are generally the same when given alone or with other vaccines. Side effects vary by individual.

Molaka: The side effects that we have are generally mild and last for one to two days. Developing them is a sign that you’re building immunity.

Q: Is there anything else that is important for people to know?

Fadowole: As communitie­s return to everyday activities amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, it is critical that people remain diligent about getting their flu vaccine to help reduce the spread of a vaccine-preventabl­e illness.

Molaka: There are myths we have to debunk. People always say, ‘Oh, I got the flu shot and I got the flu.’ The flu shot won’t give the flu. In these pandemic times, we want to save healthcare resources and not burden the healthcare workers with something that is easily preventabl­e. We want to minimize hospitaliz­ation. We want to minimize deaths. We need to get the shot to minimize the impact on healthcare resources, to keep the community healthy, to keep our families healthy.”

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