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What you need to know

  • The flu causes tens of millions of symptomatic illnesses each year in the U.S.
  • Experts say the best time to get vaccinated is late October or early November.
  • It’s safe to get a flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

The updated COVID-19 boosters are not the only vaccines public health officials are advocating for this fall. As the cooler months approach, it’s also time for people to get their annual flu shots. 

Flu shots provide crucial protection against the contagious respiratory illness that kills tens of thousands of people annually. Yet in the 2021-2022 flu season, less than half of adults got the vaccine.

Why is it important to get a flu shot every year?

The flu is often mischaracterized as a mild disease. But in reality, the flu causes tens of millions of symptomatic illnesses each year in the U.S. Among those who get sick, hundreds of thousands of people end up in the hospital and tens of thousands die. Young children, older adults, and people with certain medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to serious complications from the respiratory infection.

Getting the annual flu shot is the best way to stay protected against the flu and its potential complications. To maximize protection, scientists modify the vaccine every year to protect against the four influenza strains that are expected to be most common during the upcoming season.

Who should get a flu shot?

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older in the U.S. get a flu shot. This year, the agency is also recommending that people 65 and older opt for the high-dose, recombinant, or adjuvanted versions of the vaccine—each of which is supposed to produce a stronger immune response. If none of those versions are available, people 65 and older should get any other flu vaccine instead.

When should I get a flu shot?

The CDC says that, ideally, everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October. However, getting vaccinated too early can also be an issue, as the benefit of a flu shot wanes over time. 

Flu season in the U.S. typically peaks between December and February, but it can last as late as May. Experts say the best time to get vaccinated is late October or early November to ensure maximum protection throughout the flu season. However, they also note that you should fast-forward your plans if you start hearing about flu activity picking up where you live.

Can I get my flu shot and updated COVID-19 booster at the same time? 

It’s safe to get a flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. Since both vaccines are available at most pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and health care clinics, it can be convenient for people to get their flu shot and updated COVID-19 booster in one appointment. 

However, people who are already more than four to six months out from their last COVID-19 vaccine dose should get their booster now and consider waiting until late October or early November to get their flu shot.

What is the upcoming flu season expected to look like?

Flu seasons have been relatively mild throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is some concern that the upcoming season may be worse than it has been for a while. Nations in the Southern Hemisphere that have already had their flu seasons saw higher than average peaks in cases, signaling that the U.S. could also experience a bad flu season.

Getting a flu shot and updated COVID-19 booster can help us avoid a twindemic, where peaking flu cases coincide with a winter COVID-19 surge. Vaccines help ensure that hospital systems are not overwhelmed this winter, especially as sicknesses become more common as the weather cools and gatherings move indoors.