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When Should You and Your Kids Get the Flu Shot?

It turns out there is an ideal time to get your flu shot. Unfortunately, it usually doesn't line up with what your local drugstore is pushing.

You know that flu shot for kids and adults are safe and effective. You know that when it comes to how often you should get a flu shot, the answer is every year. You even know all the ingredients in the flu shot. But you have one nagging question: When is the best time to get a flu shot? Generally, experts say October. But with a complicated flu season ahead thanks to COVID, that answer is a bit more complicated for 2021. Still, if you’re in the middle of flu season, it’s not too late to get a flu shot. Here’s the best time for the flu shot, and, for those that got it early, how long your flu shot will last.

How Long Does the Flu Shot Last?

For those extra-responsible citizens who finished their beach vacation and thought, “flu season is just around the corner,” first of all, bless you. Second, you might have screwed yourself. The flu vaccine is expected to protect an individual for a period of 6 months. After this, dwindling antibody levels cause its potency to wane. Vaccine effectiveness declines 8%-9% each month after getting the flu shot, according to a new study.

Although booster doses do exist, they’re most effective for children ages 6 months to 8-years-old. Nevertheless, it can’t hurt to talk to your doctor now about getting a booster.

If you decide to wait until January to get your flu shot, likewise, you may be in for a not-so-fun flu season. “Delaying vaccination might permit greater immunity later in the season,” the board that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccines acknowledges, but that “deferral could result in missed opportunities to vaccinate.”

“I’ve seen far too many disasters in people who think they can time [the flu vaccine],” Greg Poland, MD, director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group in Rochester, Minnesota, told Women’s Health. “People either forget about getting the vaccine or procrastinate it. Then they start seeing their neighbors and coworkers get sick and decide it’s time. But at that point, it could already be too late.”

So you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and double damned if you get the flu in the midst of this existential crisis. Which is why you should get your shot right now, at this very moment. Go ahead, we’ll wait.

When Is the Best Time To Get a Flu Shot?

Flu season runs from October to May and peaks between December and February. And although the flu season’s peak is well known, pharmacies seem to have not received the message. The likes of CVS and Walgreens (the two biggest pharmacies in the country) offer the “convenience” of such flu shots for kids and adults as early as August, along with incentives like a 20 percent off shopping pass. But why? What gives with the pushy purveyors of the flu shot?

The simple fact is that the rise of retail medical clinics inside drug stores along with state laws allowing pharmacists to administer them have made flu shots more marketable year-round. You could argue that these pharmacies are using their power for good — getting a jump on the flu season by marketing the shots early.

And an early flu shot is better than no flu shot, especially when it comes to your kids. (Children getting their first flu shot or who have only ever received one dose before need a second dose four weeks after their first of the season.) Though some studies suggest that flu vaccines lose their effectiveness over the course of a season, others show that you can be protected up to a year later if the strains don’t change.

You could also argue that pharmacies are simply getting a jump on the $1.6 billion industry that is built around the flu.

When You Should Get a Flu Shot May Be Different in 2021

Although waning immunity is a major concern if you get the vaccine too early, there are also risks of holding off for too long, especially this year. Because of masks and social distancing, the flu season was incredibly mild in 2020. Not many people were exposed to the flu, meaning that they didn’t build up immunity by coming across it. They may be extra vulnerable this year, so getting the flu shot before the virus begins to circulate is crucial.

The CDC recommends that adults, especially those over 65, wait until at least September to get vaccinated. Kids can get vaccinated as soon as the flu shot becomes available.