As the seasons change and cooler weather sets in, so does the annual arrival of flu season. The flu, short for influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness. It ranges from mild to severe — and your risk of severe illness is higher if you’re over age 65 or you have a respiratory condition like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), as well as other medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes, or heart or kidney disease.
One of the most effective preventive measures against the flu and its potential complications is the flu shot. That’s why David Kamelhar, MD, Eric Teller, MD, and our team at Kamelhar-Teller Pulmonology recommend getting your flu shot early for maximum protection.
Haven’t gotten your flu shot yet? Here’s why you should schedule your appointment before the end of October.
1. Maximize your immunity
In the United States, flu season generally lasts from October to May. Influenza has been arriving earlier and earlier, and in the 2022-2023 season, the virus hit early and hard, reaching very high levels within a few months. It was a very difficult winter for influenza with higher hospitalizations and deaths than in many years.
Getting your flu shot early in the season gives your body sufficient time to build immunity.
It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to trigger your body's immune response to create the antibodies it needs to fight off the influenza virus. By getting the flu shot early, you increase your chances of better protection before flu activity in your community starts to peak.
Plus, flu shots are readily available at the beginning of the season, so you can get your shot without any unnecessary hassles. As the season progresses and demand increases, there might be cases of shortages or delays in receiving the vaccine. As of the date of this publication, the vaccine is readily available in pharmacies.
2. Reduce your risk of severe illness
The flu can cause severe complications that require hospitalization, especially in older people and those with chronic respiratory conditions. Being vaccinated helps reduce your risk of getting the flu — but even if you do get sick, the shot helps reduce the severity of the illness and the likelihood that you’ll require hospitalization.
It is true that a number of patients do experience side effects from the vaccine, but although they may make you uncomfortable, those infrequent side effects are less dangerous than having a serious influenza infection.
3. Lower your risk of COVID-19 coinfection and of RSV infection
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic adds an extra layer of concern during flu season, particularly with the latest rise in COVID cases. The same is true for respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. All three, flu, COVID-19 and RSV, share similar symptoms, which can complicate your diagnosis and treatment.
Covid affects individuals of all ages. RSV is a concern in individuals over the age of sixty.
Be sure as well to be vaccinated against the current Covid variant, for which the vaccine was just being released in late September, and against RSV, for which there is a choice of both Pfizer and Glaxo vaccines.
When you get your flu shot early, you reduce your chances of getting sick with the flu and suffering the effects of a weakened immune system. A weaker immune system may increase your risk of COVID-19 infection and your need for hospitalization, but flu vaccination can help you stay healthier all winter long.
4. Help prevent community spread
Getting your flu shot early doesn’t just safeguard your health; it also contributes to the well-being of your community. When a larger percentage of the population is vaccinated, it creates a barrier against the flu's spread — a phenomenon is known as "herd immunity."
By getting your flu shot early, you can lead by example and encourage those around you to do the same. When more people get flu shots, the number of people who can contract and transmit the virus decreases, and your community stays healthier as a whole.
So if you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, don't wait. Call Kamelhar-Teller Pulmonology at 212-685-6611 or schedule an appointment online and start reaping the benefits of early protection this flu season.