Think It’s Too Late to Get a Flu Shot? Guess Again

News Updates

Experts say not enough people are getting vaccinated.

More people have gotten the flu shot compared to this time last year, but experts say it’s still not enough.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today that 45 percent of adults and 46 percent of children have received the flu vaccine up from 39 percent for both children and adults at the same time last year.

But the number is still lower than medical experts would like. Everyone over the age of 6 months is advised to get the flu shot to protect against the disease.

So, have you been waiting to get your influenza vaccine once flu season started in October?

Don’t wait any longer.

“I would say, very clearly, to the person who hasn’t gotten their flu shot yet: You should hustle along. You don’t have to run, but hustle along — get your vaccination this afternoon,” Dr. William Schaffner, infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Healthline.

“It takes 10 days for protection to build up to maximum in your body. Influenza will be wherever you are in your community — someone has influenza today that could be transmitted to you tomorrow.”

Schaffner’s warnings come now that we are firmly in the thick of the 2018-2019 flu season, which runs until May. Every year, an estimated 5 to 20 percent of the population in the United States will get the flu, according to the CDC.

This year, concern around those who haven’t gotten vaccinated are particularly high because of how bad the previous season was. Over the course of last year, 900,000 people were hospitalized and about 80,000 died from the flu and its complications.

Among the sobering statistics from last year’s flu season is that a record 180 children died.

Will this year be as bad?

It’s still too early to tell, says Dr. Sherif Mossad, an infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic.

“At this point in the season, it is too soon to tell the severity. In the Southern Hemisphere, the 2018 flu season was less severe than in 2017, so we are hoping for a less severe season for us as well,” Mossad wrote in an email to Healthline.

That being said, there are some ways to see how dangerous this season could be.

Every year, the CDC monitors the course of the flu season — looking at things like the number of week-to-week hospitalizations and the number of deaths.

So far, since October 1, there have been 544 laboratory-confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations nationwide.

“These statistics are continuing at a modest level right now, nothing to run around and get your hair on fire about, as of yet,” Schaffner added. “The good news is that the dominant influenza virus strain out there is H1N1, which tends to produce somewhat milder infections. So, with the proviso that it is ‘early’ so far, it looks as though we are going to have a modest influenza season. But you and I both know readers should know the flu is fickle — anything can change.”

He stressed that flu watchers need to take it “one day at a time,” but said it’s encouraging that the dominant H1N1 strain is “well-matched” by the current vaccine out there at the moment. Since the rates of hospitalization and infection seem better than last year, he said it might be because people were concerned by last year’s particularly bad year.

“We still don’t vaccinate half the population in the United States, which is not good,” he explained. “That’s even with our pretty good — but imperfect — vaccine. Nonetheless, each year it prevents thousands of infections and thousands of hospitalizations and it prevents many of the negative complications that can come from influenza.”

Schaffner pointed out the vaccine, “Like so many things in life, it’s not perfect, but it’s the best that medical science can produce and it’s important people get vaccinated.”

At Cleveland Clinic, Mossad reiterated that it’s never too late to get vaccinated and added that people need to wash their hands frequently, avoid being around those who are sick, and try to stay rested to remain healthy this season.

“Get your flu shot,” he wrote. “If you think you may have the flu, seek medical care early, since treatment works best when started within two days of onset of illness.”

Schaffner said that, as always, people who are elderly, those who are immune-compromised, and pregnant women, especially, should get vaccinated as soon as possible if they haven’t already.

“I hear the concern, ‘If I am pregnant during influenza season, should I be vaccinated?’ First, if women are pregnant and they get the flu, they have complications that are comparable to senior citizens,” Schaffner said.

“Pregnancy sets you up for more severe illness. Get vaccinated, and here’s the bonus: the protection the woman makes for herself passes through the placenta and into the newborn — well into the baby’s first 6 months of life. So, not only does she get protected by getting vaccinated she will protect her newborn.”

The bottom line

We’re now fully into the 2018-2019 flu season. According to the CDC, there have been 544 laboratory-confirmed flu-associated hospitalizations nationwide and 78 deaths.

Doctors stress that it isn’t too late to get your flu shot. Get one as soon as you can, especially if you’re an older adult, have a compromised immune system, or are pregnant.