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Don't get your flu shot too early


October 4, 2013

Did you know you can get a flu shot too early?

The present scramble to get flu shots early concerns me. I am afraid that this rush is based on financial gain to those giving the immunizations, particularly chain pharmacies, and not actual facts of influenza in Montana ... or is based on recommendations that apply to the East Coast but not the West in general, and certainly not Montana. More than 75 percent of the population of the United States lives within 200 miles of the east coast; national recommendations for early immunization apply there, but not here.

Flu immunization takes about one to two weeks to get a good immune response going in your system; the best protection lasts about three months and then begins to wane. You may experience some achiness, fatigue, soreness where you got your shot, or even mild headache or low-grade fever as your body ramps up its defenses against influenza. It is a sign that the shot is working and protecting you, not giving you the flu.

If you get your flu shot in late September or early October, your major protection is present October to December and into January, then your protection is going to fade. But, the major time at risk for getting the flu in Montana is usually late December through March, even in April. If you want your best protection from influenza to be at the peak of the risk season, look at the timing of when you want your most protection: December to March. In other words, don't get your flu shot too early.

If you will be traveling to the East Coast, or go to school there, or have company arriving from there, by all means, get immunized now. Of course, the very best protection, used if you have heart or lung disease, or another serious medical condition, is to consider getting immunized now and again in January. This will lead to the best protection, but that cost is yours; no insurer — not Medicare or Medicaid — will generally pay for a second immunization.

Unused vaccine certainly won't help anyone — that's a waste; and no provider of vaccine wants to buy it and not give it — that's a waste. Too early is as much of a waste as too late, because neither one protects you.

Talk to your doctor about the best timing, and get a flu shot ... but not too early.

Carley C. Robertson, MD



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