An ad for flu vaccines outside a Brookline, Mass., pharmacy on Sept. 20, 2013. (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)
It feels premature, off-seasonally odd, a bit like all the Halloween candy already on store shelves in August.
Flu is a cold-weather plague, yet the pharmacy signs advertising flu vaccines are already out on the sidewalks now, beneath the benevolent sun of perfect 70-degree days and leaves just beginning to tinge their edges with red and yellow.
But flu vaccine experts say that it’s really not too early to get vaccinated, and there’s a bit more to know this year as you roll up your sleeve. There are new and myriad options in flu vaccines, including:
• A “quadrivalent” vaccine that protects against four strains of flu virus rather than the usual three.
• New egg-free flu vaccines for people with egg allergies.
• High-dose “super” vaccines for older people.
• Short-needle vaccines (I’m not sure if I got one of these last year, but I was pleasantly shocked at how tiny the needle was and how little it hurt.) For shot-haters, nasal vaccines remain available for many as well.
Health authorities emphasize that flu vaccine “shopping” shouldn’t get in the way of just getting it done. Flu is no joke, killing an average of 24,000 Americans a year, including dozens of children. USA Today offers a nice rundown of the options here, and the CDC’s flu vaccine page is here. I also spoke with Dr. Michael Jhung, a flu vaccine expert at the CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases. Our conversation, edited, is below, but first, my own personal favorite flu-vaccine tip: A 90-minute bout of exercise soon after a flu shot could help jump-start your antibody production, according to a recent study that suggests it might even double your antibodies
CG: First of all, I’m seeing these ads for flu vaccines in pharmacies already now in September, and it seems ridiculously early; flu season doesn’t even peak until January, and also, doesn’t the vaccine wear off after a while? So I’m thinking, maybe I’ll get it, but not now . . . How would you respond to that?
MJ: That’s a great question. I think a lot of people entertain the idea of getting an influenza vaccine, but then they put it off and they say, ‘Well, the season hasn’t started, I have plenty of time.’ But the fact of the matter is, the best time to get an influenza vaccine is before the season starts, not during the season.
And influenza seasons are very unpredictable from year to year. Continue reading