Along with the leaves turning color and getting ready to drop, fall marks the beginning of flu season in the U.S., which typically runs from October to May – meaning that everyone should start thinking about getting their annual flu shot.
While it seems that every year brings headlines about how the impending flu season will be “the worst one yet,” I have not been given that impression. That is not to say that a flu shot should be considered optional; according to the CDC, the 2022-2023 flu shot reduced the risk of flu-related hospitalizations by nearly three quarters among children and by almost half among adults. Vaccinated adults were also about half as likely to have flu-related emergency department visits.
Nevertheless, the CDC estimates that during our last flu season, between 27 million and 54 million people got sick with the flu, 300,000 to 650,000 were hospitalized, and 19,000 to 58,000 died from the disease and its complications. (The CDC says those ranges are so wide “because influenza surveillance does not capture all cases of flu that occur in the U.S.”)
As a result of the flu’s potentially devastating effects, we recommend annual vaccinations for people as young as 6 months. The live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), which comes in the form of a nasal spray, is a good alternative for young children and some adults who may be needle-phobic.
Also worth mentioning is that those who may hesitate to get the flu vaccine, in any form, due to an egg allergy need not worry; while some versions of the vaccine have tiny amounts of egg proteins in them, they are so small as to usually cause no reaction. I say “usually” as there are few absolutes when it comes to medicine. If you have an egg allergy and have had a bad reaction to a past flu shot, or if you are unsure, discuss with your physician.
Although this year’s flu shots have been available in most areas beginning in September, I recommend waiting until October to maximize the vaccine’s effectiveness. Note also that the RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) vaccine, which received FDA approval earlier this year for those aged 60 and over, is now available.
Also on hand is the new COVID-19 vaccine. While last year’s talk of a “tripledemic” has not returned (at least, not yet), I highly recommend receiving this injection as well. Designed to combat the latest COVID variants, the new arrival is prescribed for everyone starting at 6 months of age; as is standard, those over 65 who have weakened immune systems or certain other medical conditions like chronic lung disease, obesity, advanced diabetes or kidney disease are strongly advised to roll up their sleeve – preferably in October.
All of this gives rise to the question of whether it is advisable to receive all three vaccines at once. Technically you can, but that is a lot to put your body through at one time, especially if you develop a low fever or other side effects from the flu vaccine. I recommend that you try to get all three sometime during October, but consider staggering them.
The important thing is to make sure to get vaccinations for all three of these conditions. I urge you to make an appointment with your physician, or at a reputable pharmacy, to maintain your health throughout the fall and winter.