It’s flu shot season and, once again, the influenza vaccine is an important one to get. With mask-wearing on the decline, there’s likely to be more of every common respiratory virus around. So you might as well protect yourself against the ones that have safe, effective vaccines readily available.
In years where the flu shot is well matched to the strains that end up circulating, the vaccine is 40% to 60% effective at preventing the flu, according to CDC data. The vaccine also reduces your chance of getting seriously ill from the flu even if you do get sick—much like the COVID vaccines. Neither shot provides perfect protection, but you’re much better off vaccinated than not.
The CDC recommends that everyone receive a flu shot every year, starting with babies ages 6 months and up.
What are my options?
All the flu shots this year are quadrivalent, meaning they prime your immune system to recognize four different flu viruses. (In the past, some have had three.) Standard flu shots are usually given with a needle in the arm and are developed by a process that involves growing the virus in chicken eggs.
There are two vaccines produced with entirely egg-free processes: Flublok Quadrivalent and Flucelvax Quadrivalent. People who are allergic to eggs are usually fine with any vaccine, but the egg-free kind is there for you if you want it.
There are two vaccines formulated for people ages 65 and older. One is high-dose (Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent), and the other is adjuvanted (Fluad Quadrivalent). Both are intended to provoke a stronger response than the standard flu vaccines. We have more information on these types of shots here.
And finally, the nasal spray (FluMist Quadrivalent) is back. This is a “live, attenuated” flu vaccine, meaning that the viruses in it are able to reproduce in the nose. (They cannot reproduce at the higher temperatures in your lungs.) It’s available for people between 2 and 49 years old who are not pregnant and not immunocompromised. There are other contraindications; see the CDC’s page on live attenuated flu vaccines for more on who can take this vaccine and who should not. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended the injectable over the nasal spray in the past, but this year both versions are included in their recommendations.
When should I get it?
The timing of flu season varies each year, but Halloween is considered the unofficial deadline for getting your flu shot to be fully prepared for the coming season. That means September and October are the best times to get a flu shot.
If you got your shot in July or August, that’s OK, but protection tends to wane over the season. Going forward, getting your shot closer to the start of flu season is recommended if that’s convenient for you.
Children ages 6 months to 8 years should get two doses of the flu vaccine if it’s their first time getting the shot or if they only had one dose prior to July of 2022. These two doses should be given four weeks apart. For these kids, you’ll want to get the first dose soon so they can get the second dose in time for flu season. For example, if you get one dose in mid-September and the second in mid-October, you’ll be all set. Next year, one dose will be enough.
If you don’t manage to get your flu shot by the end of October, you can still get it afterward. It’s never “too late” as long as flu season is going on. The season often peaks in February, and some years the peak can be as late as March. A late flu shot will still protect you from viruses you have yet to encounter, although if you wait until spring, pharmacies may no longer have the shot in stock.
Can’t the flu shot give me the flu?
What if I’m also getting a COVID booster?
You can get your flu shot and your shiny new bivalent COVID booster at the same time. If you are getting a high-dose or adjuvanted flu shot, the CDC recommends using a different arm for each shot. (Both shots can cause soreness and redness at the vaccine site.)