Have You Gotten Your Flu Shot Yet?

SPRINGFIELD — If you haven’t gotten your flu shot by now, then you missed the deadline set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but it is still recommended to get your flu shot as you will still benefit from it, according to Baystate Health.

Ideally, the CDC recommends that everyone should be vaccinated by the end of October since the flu can begin in earnest at any time beginning in October and lasting through May, usually peaking from December through February.

According to Dr. Armando Paez, chief of the Infectious Disease Division at Baystate Health, many healthcare experts are predicting a severe flu season because of reduced flu immunity in the general population due to the low number of flu cases in the past two years, and the early and severe flu season in the southern hemisphere.

“It is never too late to get the flu shot to protect yourself throughout the long flu season, and I recommend that you don’t wait any longer as it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine to build up antibodies to protect you from the flu,” Paez said.

The CDC notes that flu shots are appropriate for most people, with rare exceptions for children younger than 6 months of age and those with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in the flu vaccine or who have had a previous severe allergic reaction to a dose of flu vaccine.

For people younger than 65, the CDC does not preferentially recommend any licensed, age-appropriate influenza vaccine over another during the 2022-23 flu season. Options for this age group include inactivated influenza vaccine, recombinant influenza vaccine, or live attenuated influenza vaccine, with no preference for any flu vaccine over another.

For people 65 years and older, there are three flu vaccines that are preferentially recommended over standard-dose unadjuvanted flu vaccines. These are Fluzone high-dose quadrivalent vaccine, Flublok quadrivalent recombinant flu vaccine, and Fluad quadrivalent adjuvanted flu vaccine. More information is available at www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/65over.htm.

All flu vaccines for the 2022-23 season are quadrivalent vaccines, designed to protect against four different flu viruses, including two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. Different vaccines are licensed for use in different age groups, and some vaccines are not recommended for some groups of people.

Pregnant women and adults with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease and stroke, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes, as well as adults 65 years and older who are at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu, should get the vaccine as soon as possible, Paez said.

He also noted that, “if you have a weakened immune system after contracting COVID-19, it can leave you at risk for getting a more severe case of the flu, or vice versa.”

A flu outbreak can be devastating for children, said Dr. John O’Reilly, chief of General Pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital. “Influenza has always been a significant illness in children. Kids under 5; kids with asthma; and children with serious underlying pulmonary, cardiac, neurologic, or immune-system illnesses are at particular risk for a serious influenza infection. During the 2019-20 influenza season, 199 children died of the flu, so we need to protect our kids from this deadly disease.”

The lack of a significant flu season last year means that many of children under age 2 were not exposed to the flu and did not develop any natural antibodies.

“That means children under 2 are at particular risk for serious influenza this year,” O’Reilly said. “We need to protect our most vulnerable children by getting them vaccinated against the flu as soon as possible.”

Children between 6 months and 8 years of age who have never received at least two doses of flu vaccine at any point in time during their lives (not necessarily during the same flu season) need two doses of flu vaccine, given at least four weeks apart, to be fully protected from flu.

“That means you should call your pediatrician’s office today because you want to build up their immune-system protection before influenza starts hitting our community hard,” O’Reilly said.

Although most COVID-19 infections in children are mild, he is concerned about kids who might get COVID and influenza infections back-to-back. “Both of these infections can cause inflammation and damage in the lungs. If a child has a COVID infection followed quickly by catching influenza, the likelihood of a more severe and damaging infection is greater.”

To prevent the possibility of a severe infection, O’Reilly recommends that parents get their children vaccinated against COVID as soon as they are eligible, and to get their flu shot as soon as possible. COVID vaccines offer no protection against the flu. “The latest recommendation is that you no longer need to wait between getting these two vaccines, and the sooner we get our kids protected against these two serious illnesses, the better they will be.”