Senior man who got his seasonal flu shot plays with kids, who also got their flu vaccine.

PREVENT

When is the best time to get the flu shot?

  • The flu shot reduces your risk of getting the flu by about 50 percent.
  • If you have young children getting the flu shot for the first time, they will need two doses, four weeks apart.
  • For most people, any side effects of the flu shot are mild and go away on their own in a few days.

The flu shot helps boost your immunity to the strains of flu that experts believe will be most prevalent in the coming flu season. On average, the flu shot reduces your risk of getting the flu by about 50 percent.

Several factors can determine the effectiveness of the flu shot, including timing. We usually see the first flu cases in October, and the season peaks from December to March. Some years, cases are still occurring in May.

When to get a flu shot

To prevent the seasonal flu, the best time to get a flu shot is in October. Here’s why.

1. Your body needs time to build antibodies. You should get vaccinated before flu begins spreading. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies that protect you from the flu to develop in the body.

There are many clinics where you can make a flu shot appointment. Find a flu shot location.

2. You want protection for the full season. If you get the shot too early, your immunity may wane before the flu season is really over.

3. If you wait too long, it may be too late. If you wait until flu is widespread before getting vaccinated, you may get exposed to the flu virus before your body develops immunity.

If you have an appointment for another reason, ask for a flu shot while you’re there.

If you have young children who are getting the flu shot for the first time, it’s especially important to get it early. That’s because they will need two doses, four weeks apart.

The only reason to delay getting the flu shot is because of illness. If you’re sick with a fever (not just a cold), wait until the fever has passed before getting a flu shot.

If October has passed and you have not yet had a flu shot, it’s not too late. Since the flu can spread well into spring, you’ll still be reducing your risk of getting the flu.

What are side effects of the flu shot?

If worries about side effects of the flu shot are keeping you or your loved ones from getting vaccinated, be assured that for most people, side effects are mild. 

You may notice common side effects like soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, and some people may experience a headache, fever, nausea or muscle aches. These are typically mild and go away on their own within a few days. In fact, many of these mild side effects are signs that your body's immune system is responding to the vaccine and kicking into gear to offer you protection from the flu. 

Rare but serious side effects can occur if there is an allergic reaction. An allergic reaction would typically occur within a few hours after receiving the injection. Symptoms include breathing problems, swelling around the lips or eye, hives, weakness and a fast heartbeat. Call 911 if you suspect an allergic reaction.

If you have any questions or concerns about getting the flu shot, talk to your health care provider. 

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