According to The Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, flu season occurs between October and May and peaks between December and February, just in time to call in sick for Valentines Day. Still, CVS and Walgreens offer the “convenience” of such shots as early as August, along with incentives like a 20 percent off shopping pass. But as CNN and NPR both point out, much like Prince and Bowie jokes, it might be too soon.
The main issue with deciding when to get your family’s flu shots comes down to the fact that science isn’t totally decided on how long they last. In the past, most flu shot campaigns started in October, but 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. The fact that the flu is a $1.6 billion industry is nothing to sneeze at either — even if you can’t help it.
“Delaying vaccination might permit greater immunity later in the season,” the board that advises the CDC on vaccine acknowledges, but notes that “deferral could result in missed opportunities to vaccinate.” The board also says that waiting could reduce the amount of antibodies in the vaccine — making them less effective. 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.
Rest assured experts do agree on one thing: An early flu shot is better than no flu shot, especially when it comes to your kid. 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. Flu shots this year are expected to carry 3 to 4 strains and reduce the risk of illness by 50 to 60 percent “among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are like the vaccine viruses,” the CDC says. Still, the best time to go is between Halloween and Thanksgiving, immunologist Laura Haynes advises. And no, it’s not just for the 20 percent off candy, but that helps.