The new school year has barely begun, but pharmacies and doctors offices are already encouraging us to line up for our flu shots. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people get their vaccines by the end of October. What’s the right call?

The timing of flu season in the United States changes every year (the flu virus itself changes its genes even more frequently!), but it typically reaches its peak in early winter, between December and February. This is the window in which you really want to be sure you’re protected, particularly if you are pregnant, have one of these medical conditions or are over the age of 65.

So how do you make sure you’re covered? Get your flu shot in late September or early October. At the very latest, by Halloween. Here’s why:

“We know that antibodies peak four to six weeks after getting a vaccine, then slowly go down over the next six months,” says Ann Falsey, MD, professor of medicine in the infectious diseases unit at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Theoretically, you could be less protected during flu season’s winter peak if you get your vaccination too early.

So why are schools and pharmacies pushing those flu vaccines now? It’s possible that schools are trying to get ahead of the game to avoid a potential wave of sick kids early in the year. Maybe they’re trying to spread appointments out to avoid an onslaught in October. Or maybe, pharmacies recognize our procrastinator tendencies and are just trying to give us a heads up.

Whatever the reason, the core message is the same: unless you have a specific, medical reason not to get vaccinated (like a history of allergic reactions), it is vital that you do so, for your health and for the health of your community. 

Where to get your flu shot:

  • Your primary doctor’s office
  • Local pharmacy (i.e., Rite Aid, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS)
  • Urgent-care clinic
  • Your workplace or college
  • Mobile medical unit (more common in big cities)


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