Too Late for the Flu Vaccine?
Flu season runs from October to May, with most cases happening from late December to early March. Getting vaccinated before the flu season is in full force (ideally by the end of October) gives the body a chance to make antibodies that protect from the virus.
Even though it's best to get vaccinated as soon as the flu vaccine is available, getting the vaccine later still can be helpful. Even as late as January, there are still a few months left in the flu season, so it's still a good idea to get protected.
Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine?
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older. It's especially important for people who are at greater risk of having health problems from the flu to get vaccinated. They include:
- all kids 6 months through 4 years old (babies younger than 6 months are also considered high risk, but they can't get the flu vaccine)
- anyone 65 years and older
- all women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, have recently given birth, or are breastfeeding during flu season
- anyone whose immune system is weak from medicines or illnesses (like HIV infection)
- people who live in long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes
- anyone (adults, teens, and kids) with an ongoing medical condition, such as asthma or diabetes
- kids or teens who take aspirin regularly and are at risk for developing Reye syndrome if they get the flu
- caregivers or household members of anyone in a high-risk group (like children younger than 5 years old, especially those younger than 6 months, and those with high-risk conditions)
- Native Americans and Alaska Natives
Kids under 9 years old need two doses of flu vaccine if they've had fewer than two doses before July 2019. This includes kids who are getting the flu vaccine for the first time. Those under 9 who have received at least two doses of flu vaccine previously (in the same or different seasons) will only need one dose. Kids older than 9 only need one dose of the vaccine.
It can take up to 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective, so it's best to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
What Are the Types of Flu Vaccine?
Two types of flu vaccine are available for the 2019–2020 flu season. Both protect against four types of influenza virus:
- the flu shot, which is injected with a needle
- the nasal spray, a mist which gets sprayed into the nostrils
In the past, the nasal spray vaccine wasn't recommended for kids because it didn't seem to work well enough. The newer version appears to work as well as the shot. So either vaccine can be given this year, depending on the child's age and general health.
The nasal spray is only for healthy people ages 2–49. People with weak immune systems or some health conditions (such as asthma) and pregnant women should not get the nasal spray vaccine.
Who Shouldn't Get the Flu Vaccine?
Certain things might prevent a person from getting the vaccine. Talk to your doctor to see if the vaccine is still recommended if your child:
- has ever had a severe allergic reaction to a flu vaccine
- has had Guillain-Barré syndrome
Egg Allergy and the Flu Vaccine
In the past, people with an egg allergy had to check with their doctor about whether the flu vaccine was OK for them because it's grown inside eggs. But health experts now say that the amount of egg protein in the vaccine is so tiny that it's safe even for kids with a severe egg allergy. This is especially important during a severe flu season.
Still, a child with an egg allergy should get the flu vaccine in a doctor's office, not at a supermarket, drugstore, or other venue.
If your child is sick and has a fever, or is wheezing, talk to your doctor about whether to reschedule the vaccine.
Are There Side Effects?
Most people do not have any side effects from the flu vaccine. Some have soreness or swelling at the site of the shot or mild side effects, such as headache or a low fever.
Where Can My Family Get the Flu Vaccine?
The flu vaccine is available at:
- doctors' offices
- public, employee, and university health clinics
- most drugstores
- some supermarkets and big-box stores
- some community groups or centers
- some schools