Time to Get the Flu Vaccine

The flu season may come early again this year. The time to protect yourself is now.

Sam Johnston

Ah, fall in New England. The days get shorter, the air gets cooler, and I get bombarded with emails from my pharmacy asking me to schedule a flu shot. Yes, flu season is right around the corner.

Last year, I wrote a piece here warning that we could have a bad flu season. Turns out, I was right. Our 2022-2023 flu season started early, and it looks like it led to more illness than in the last few years, with as many as 650,000 sent to the hospital and 58,000 deaths. Unfortunately, signs point to another bad season. So it’s just as critical as ever to get a flu vaccine.

When Should I Get the Vaccine?

For most people, the CDC recommends getting the vaccine in September or October. That’s because the flu virus starts to spread quickly in the fall, and it takes your body a couple of weeks to fully build up protection after you get vaccinated. Last year, flu peaked in November and December, which is early for flu season. If this year is anything like last year (no guarantee!), you’ll want your protection in place before you encounter the flu virus.

Which Flu Vaccine Should I Get?

There are two basic types of flu vaccines in the US: shots and nasal sprays. So which one to get? Short answer: Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist. However, there are a couple of details to note. First, the nasal spray is only approved for non-pregnant people ages 2 to 49. Second, if you’re age 65 or older, the CDC recommends that you get one of three specific vaccines. That’s because older immune systems don’t react to vaccines as strongly as young ones do, so these shots give some extra help. However, if you’re in that age group and don’t have access to one of those three vaccines, get whatever approved flu vaccine you can get. Some protection is better than none.

Where Should I Go?

Flu vaccines are widely available, and they’re free for almost everyone with health insurance. You may be able to get a vaccine at your doctor’s office, hospital, community health center, or at an employer-run clinic. Another option is Vaccines.gov, which can show you where to find both COVID and flu vaccines in your area. When I typed in my zip code, the site gave me nearly 50 locations to get a flu shot! Vaccines.gov also lets you filter by type of vaccine, so for instance if you want the nasal spray, you can look for places that offer it.

As for me, I got mine at my local pharmacy (yes, the same one that sent me those emails), since I could set up an appointment online that worked with my schedule. While I was there, I also got the updated COVID vaccine — and some baby wipes, Halloween candy, and vitamins. I’m ready for fall in New England.