August 22nd, 2011
07:29 AM ET

Is it too early to get the flu vaccine?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.


My doctor's office started offering this season's flu vaccine in early August. Should I get it now or wait until closer to flu season?

Expert answer:

Thanks for your question. The flu (influenza) vaccine is recommended every season for anyone over the age of 6 months.

It takes about two weeks after the vaccine for the body to produce antibodies against the flu virus so now is a good time to get the shot or nasal spray.

Ask our expert doctors a question

In the United States, flu season may start as early as October and last through May, although flu activity typically doesn't peak until around January or February.

A flu vaccine is required each year because the strains often change from season to season.

Even if some or all of the strains in the vaccine (which are based on the virus strains expected to be found circulating in the community that season) are the same as you have received in the past, getting another shot or spray each season can help boost your immunity, because the vaccine's effects can wane with time - usually on the order of several months to years.

If you have more questions about flu vaccines be sure to talk with your doctor or check out the CDC influenza page.

Follow @CNNHealth and @LivingWellDoc on Twitter.

soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Paul

    She did not answer the question. If the "vaccine's effects can wane with time – usually on the order of several months to years", should you wait until later in the season to get the vaccine. Perhaps one should wait until October to get the vaccine so that it is more effective in Feb. It would be nice for an advice column to actually give advice pertaining to the question.

    August 22, 2011 at 08:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      Recommendation is to get your flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available for the season.

      August 22, 2011 at 09:53 | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      The efficacy of the flu vaccine will remain strong for a year or more. There were two recent studies, one in children & the other in adolescents, that found significant antibodies in patients two to three years after receiving only a single dose of injectable flu vaccine. This means that if you get the flu shot today you will be protected in the Spring when the flu is most widespread. This is why teh CDC's recommendation for immunization against the flu is to get the vaccine "as soon as it is available". Check out the CDC's website for more info, http://www.cdc.gov

      August 22, 2011 at 17:37 | Report abuse |
    • Griega

      "...so now is a good time to get the shot or nasal spray."

      Sounds like an answer to me.

      August 23, 2011 at 02:38 | Report abuse |
    • Philip

      It's not to early, I just had the flu.

      August 23, 2011 at 20:40 | Report abuse |
    • deneeng

      I totally agree. Why not just answer the darn question?

      September 2, 2011 at 07:57 | Report abuse |
  2. Paul

    That was the question but not given as an answer in the article. But Why? Immunity as studied in healthy young people lasts at least 6-8 months, but assumed to be less in older adults, especially for influenza B We are still 6 months away from peak flu season in Feb. Why not consider waiting another month for vaccine to cover the peak season fully immunized?

    August 22, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      Valid point. But CDC's recommendation is to get as soon as it's available. They feel the vaccine is good for the whole season, even if the shot is received as early as August.

      Does getting a flu vaccine early in the season mean that I will not be protected later in the season?

      Flu vaccination provides protection against the influenza strains contained in the vaccine that will last for the whole season. Vaccination can begin as soon as vaccine is available. Studies do not show a benefit of receiving more than one dose of vaccine during a flu season, even among elderly persons with weakened immune systems.

      When to Get Vaccinated

      CDC recommends that people get their seasonal flu vaccine as soon as vaccine becomes available in their community. Vaccination before December is best since this timing ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity is typically at its highest. CDC continues to encourage people to get vaccinated throughout the flu season, which can begin as early as October and last as late as May. Over the course of the flu season, many different influenza viruses can circulate at different times and in different places. As long as flu viruses are still spreading in the community, vaccination can provide protective benefit.

      Where to Get Vaccinated

      Flu vaccine shipments began in August and will continue throughout September and October until all vaccine is distributed. Doctors and nurses are encouraged to begin vaccinating their patients as soon as flu vaccine is available in their area, even as early as August. See your doctor or nurse to get the flu vaccine, or seek out other locations where vaccine is being offered. The following flu clinic locatorExternal Web Site Icon is a useful tool for finding vaccine in your area.

      August 22, 2011 at 10:47 | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      John, thank you.

      August 22, 2011 at 10:58 | Report abuse |
  3. amber

    They have bee proven time and time again to not work..if they worked, why would people who get the vaccine be afraid to be around those who have not? CASE CLOSED..stop pushing your crappy propaganda CNN.

    August 22, 2011 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • No name

      You are clueless

      August 22, 2011 at 15:54 | Report abuse |
    • mike

      Your just angry you don't understand how many molecular and cellular biology systems work. If you are so dead set on believing that the medical system and CDC are a sham then please keep to your word and never use any medicine or medical devices even on your death bed. The minute you do your just another hypocrite.

      August 22, 2011 at 15:57 | Report abuse |
    • Colleen

      You really don't understand anything about vaccinations or Influenza, do you?

      August 22, 2011 at 16:31 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      My thoughts exactly Amber.

      August 24, 2011 at 07:41 | Report abuse |
  4. amber


    August 22, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • No name

      Again...clueless you are.

      August 22, 2011 at 15:55 | Report abuse |
    • toddflanders

      You're a moron.

      August 22, 2011 at 18:54 | Report abuse |
  5. ngc1300

    If you feel the shots don't work, or are some kind of govt. plot, don't get one. But until you present some objective evidence of such, I'll get mine.

    August 22, 2011 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • larsfromrealworld

      Objective evidence is not what you really need. Medicine as practiced today is not a science but a religion. So what you want is proof that your "God" doesn't exist. Won't happen!!! keep on believing and keep taking those shots. Aren't you glad we live in America where everyone has the choice to shoot up or not, but wait, that is not quite true...is it? How about his quote from Dr. Gregg Myers director Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety at Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality "The public is shocked when they hear that 80% of medical practice is not evidence based." or how about this one,
      “Animal studies are done for legal reasons and not for scientific reasons. The predictive value of such studies for man is meaningless-which means our research may be meaningless.”
      Dr. James D. Gallagher, Director of Medical Research of Lederle Laboratories: JAMA, march 14, 1964

      There is so much more, but you keep believing in myths and keep taking your shots. Maybe we agree on one thing...The Placebo effect!!!

      August 23, 2011 at 00:30 | Report abuse |
  6. Ted

    Get vaccinated, It works.

    August 22, 2011 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. William

    I used to be that the flu vaccine was only recommended for ther very young/old and those with immune system issues...it was not indicated for healthy teen or adults.

    But when the Avian flu scare hit a few years ago the CDC recommendation expanded the recommendation to include 'everyone'. Odd that they haven't rolled it back...the pharmicies are now capitalizing on it but using it as a sales tactic to intice people into their stores...like Halloween.

    August 22, 2011 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • CSM

      Now we know that pharmacies can efficiently distribute and administer flu vaccines, so recommending that everyone be vaccinated before each flu season is feasible without having to clog doctor's offices or clinics. For many, getting the flu vaccine at the drug store may be convenient since they might be going there anyway. If someone can't control his or her impulse buying while in the store getting vaccinated, they can probably get their vaccination in a office or clinic instead.

      August 22, 2011 at 16:16 | Report abuse |
    • brandonj

      When would this have been William? As early as 1992 (well before the Avian Flu scare) the US military was requiring me to get an annual flu shot, along with just about everyone else on active duty. Civilian government employees, healthcare industry workers, and many in private industry were getting them too. Many of those people were neither very young or very old, and generally among the healthiest in the population. It's always been a good idea to get a flu vaccine-if for no other reason than to keep you from being ill and out of work for days or even weeks, depending on the severity. Of course, there's also the risk (even with the healthy) that a particularly bad case of the flu could result in pneumonia, which could result in death-why risk it? This isn't a scare tactic-it's just common sense. As for it being a way for pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies to make money-hardly. Big Pharma makes far more on prescription drugs than it does on vaccines, and if pharmacies had to rely on flu vaccines to bring in business-they would have been out of business long ago. Not to mention that many people get their vaccine at the health department or their doctor's office.

      August 22, 2011 at 16:38 | Report abuse |
    • Emanuela

      Mary Anne, Gene and I both had our shots too and got sick the week before Christmas. His semeed like an ordinary cold but I'm still sick! Course working with ventilator patients I think I keep getting respiratory infections from them. It's a vicious circle. Glad you're feeling better now.

      August 1, 2012 at 20:08 | Report abuse |
  8. Jason

    Better safe than sorry.
    I would rather spend the $25 on the flu shot than losing $$$ from staying home sick or even worst ending up in intensive care.

    August 22, 2011 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • brandonj

      Exactly. It's funny how many out there are worried about the minimal cost of the vaccine (it can be obtained free at many Health Departments and many insurance plans pay 100 percent-mine does), or the "safety" of the vaccine, yet these same people will eat processed crap and not think twice. Which is more likely to cause a problem? I'm betting on the processed crap, considering that I've been getting a flu vaccine for the last 20 years, and I've never had a problem-NOR have I gotten the flu. Imagine that.

      August 22, 2011 at 16:43 | Report abuse |
  9. Cheryl

    Why take a chance getting really sick?
    Bet you spend more on lattes and cigs each week.

    August 22, 2011 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Tank

    I am just getting over the flu. It is going crazy in my workplace and at the university where my wife works already this year. Full flu symptoms and cycle, about 5 days total with two "bad" days.

    August 22, 2011 at 12:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • toddflanders

      Then there are those that die from the flu.. Thousands every year.

      August 22, 2011 at 18:56 | Report abuse |
  11. RS

    Despite the increase in the number of people receiving the influenza vaccine and the CDC’s public relations campaign to sell the vaccine, there has not been a decrease in the population rate of influenza deaths or influenza illnesses

    August 22, 2011 at 15:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Chapman

    Hmmm, I wish all statistics and points were covered in a question of this nature. The FLU shot has been VASTLYuneffective against the FLU. Here is how it works, a VP at big pharm picks from a list of possible FLU strains and includes this in the vaccine. There are 100's of strains and only a few go into a vaccine. Healthy individuals (including kids) SHOULD never get a flu shot. FACTS

    "There is also a lack of evidence that young children benefit from flu shots. A systematic review of 51 studies involving 260,000 children age 6 to 23 months found no evidence that the flu vaccine is any more effective than a placebo (Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;1:CD004879)."

    "Flu shots contain a number of substances which may have adverse effects on health, especially for children:

    Mercury: Two-thirds of the vaccines made for the 2008–09 flu season contain full-dose thimerosal, an organomercury compound, 49% mercury by weight. It is used to disinfect the vaccine. Each of these flu shots contain 25 micrograms of mercury, a mercury content of 50,000 part per billion, 250 times more than the Environmental Protection Agency’s safety limit. Mercury is a neurotoxin, with a toxicity level 1,000 times that of lead.
    Formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing agent is used to inactivate the virus.
    Aluminum, added to promote an antibody response,is a neurotoxin that may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.
    Other additives in the flu vaccine include:
    Triton X-100 (a detergent)
    Polysorbate 80
    carbolic acid
    ethylene glycol (antifreeze)
    various antibiotics such as neomycin, streptomycin, and gentamicin that can cause allergic reactions"

    Just google the above quotes for more mind blowing FACTS about the FLU vaccine.

    August 22, 2011 at 16:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mike

      where did you study cell and molecular biology again?

      August 22, 2011 at 16:33 | Report abuse |
    • CSM

      Too many wrongs written by Chapman to list. First, DON'T google the above quotes for getting accurate health information unless you believe everything you read on the internet. Just because google finds something, that doesn't make it true. Check official fda.gov or cdc.gov sites for the facts.
      It's not a VP at big pharma that picks, it's the Centers for Disease Control and their surveillance program. The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee provides advice on vaccine strain selection to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which selects the viral strains to be used in the annual trivalent influenza vaccines.
      Only multidose flu vaccines contain mercury, and these are not given to children.
      The approved flu vaccines do not contain aluminum. Look at the Fluzone package insert or any of the others: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/biologicsbloodvaccines/.../ucm195479.pdf. If you have any of the vaccines independently tested and the lab finds mercury, aluminum, or any of the other components that shouldn't be there, then you can consider yourself vindicated. Otherwise, you're just propagating the internet misinformation.

      August 22, 2011 at 16:50 | Report abuse |
    • brandonj

      Yet, I have had a flu vaccine every year for the last 20 years with no problem, AND I've not had the flu in the last 20 years. The occasional cold yes, but FLU? No. I know plenty of other people like me. I think the real problem is that people get a FLU vaccine and then say it doesn't work when they get a COLD, or perhaps even have allergy problems and don't realize it. As for mercury and its adverse effects, you can pick up mercury from a variety of sources, including eating fish. Many substances that enter our bodies through a variety of ways also leave our bodies through a variety of ways. Unless you're already very ill or already have such a high amount of mercury in your body that this shot could somehow push you over the edge, I'd say you have a better chance of being hit by a Mack truck on the way to the doctor's office than having a problem from the trace elements used to preserve a flu vaccine.

      August 22, 2011 at 16:52 | Report abuse |
    • Charles White

      My wife and I have been getting flu shots for the last 20 years. We used to live and work in SE Asia and traveled extensively in prime flu territories. We have not gotten the flu in 20 years while being surrounded by people who did. We don't smoke or drink but are otherwise nothing special physically. Prior to taking flu shots we did get the flu. We well remember what it was like to feel like a train was sitting our chests. And this was when we were much younger. No more. YES, Virginia, flu shots DO work.

      August 22, 2011 at 22:52 | Report abuse |
    • Yaz

      – I'm glad that you went back to photograph the bluiding, it's quite lovely in a haphazard kind of architectural way. I like the one with the cleaning lady best. And I don't care which camera you used a man of your undoubted talents would produce a good picture whichever was used!

      August 3, 2012 at 23:33 | Report abuse |
  13. Allen

    More people died of influenza during WW 1, than of war injuries. It's a helpless feeling to watch a patient suffocate and die with influenza pneumonia damaged lungs. Antibiotics don't work in this setting..
    These doubters are probably the same people who withhold immunizations for children. My mother was one, and I caught diphtheria and whooping cough (at different times), and spent several weeks in the County Hospital's contagious disease wing.
    Those who think there is a conspiracy out there are needlessly paranoid. Life must be frightening for them.

    August 22, 2011 at 18:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. steve

    Considering that survivors of the 1918 swine flu (all very elderly in 2009) proved to be immune to the hyped 2009 swine flu, the question is not if it's too early to get the vaccine. The only question is if its too late.

    I nearly died of the flu in 1997 and again in 1998. I've been getting yearly vaccinations ever since and I haven't been sick since. I never even get so much as a minor cold that lasts more than a day or two.

    August 22, 2011 at 18:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. no vaccine

    While I have gotten one many years in the past I usually end up sicker than when I skip it. I have a child with an egg allergy making him ineligible for it anyways. Vaccines have alot of extra chemicals we are just sticking into our bodies. I am over having all vaccines shoved down my throat. As a parent of a highly allergic kid I only give what is absolutely necessary and one at a time.

    August 22, 2011 at 21:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Herp derp.

      You deserve to get sick.

      August 22, 2011 at 23:11 | Report abuse |
  16. Mike

    "Influenza vaccines have a modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost. There is no evidence that they affect complications, such as pneumonia, or transmission.WARNING: This review includes 15 out of 36 trials funded by industry (four had no funding declaration). An earlier systematic review of 274 influenza vaccine studies published up to 2007 found industry funded studies were published in more prestigious journals and cited more than other studies independently from methodological quality and size. Studies funded from public sources were significantly less likely to report conclusions favorable to the vaccines. The review showed that reliable evidence on influenza vaccines is thin but there is evidence of widespread manipulation of conclusions and spurious notoriety of the studies. The content and conclusions of this review should be interpreted in light of this finding." ("Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy adults." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Jul 7:CD001269.)

    August 22, 2011 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Mike

    "Influenza vaccines are efficacious in children older than two years but little evidence is available for children under two. There was a marked difference between vaccine efficacy and effectiveness. That no safety comparisons could be carried out emphasizes the need for standardisation of methods and presentation of vaccine safety data in future studies. It was surprising to find only one study of inactivated vaccine in children under two years, given recent recommendations to vaccinate healthy children from six months old in the USA and Canada. If immunisation in children is to be recommended as public-health policy, large-scale studies assessing important outcomes and directly comparing vaccine types are urgently required." ("Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Jan 25:CD004879.)

    August 22, 2011 at 23:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Mike

    "In long-term care facilities, where vaccination is most effective against complications, the aims of the vaccination campaign are fulfilled, at least in part. However, according to reliable evidence the usefulness of vaccines in the community is modest. The apparent high effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing death from all causes may reflect a baseline imbalance in health status and other systematic differences in the two groups of participants." ("Vaccines for preventing influenza in the elderly." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006, 3:CD004876.)

    August 22, 2011 at 23:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. larsfromrealworld

    One more! better hope that they are not REAL EFFECTIVE...long term. Bill Gates said last February (and you can see it on youtube) "With VACCINES, healthcare, and reproductive services we CAN REDUCE THE WORLDS POPULATION BY TEN TO FIFTEEN PERCENT." So you get your shots...all of them, and feel great, I guess Bill and Melinda are dropping 750m at a time more than once so YOU can be well, and other people should cease to exist...DUH! wake up and smell the Rubbing Alcohol...they work okay...but how good...only time will tell. No wait...you don't get the flu anymore. Good, Bill and Melinda have something much better in store for you!!!

    August 23, 2011 at 00:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. missy

    they should be free available at pharmacies and it should be up to individual

    August 23, 2011 at 03:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NoTags

      To get the vaccine is up to the individual, but why should it be free? Do you get any other medical care free? $25 or $30 for the vaccine is a hell of a lot cheaper than getting the flu, needing medical attention and losing time from work.

      August 23, 2011 at 06:51 | Report abuse |
  21. gemini

    Funny, the two people in my life who absolutely refuse to get flu shots both caught the flu last year and were miserably sick for over a week – family members who were vaccinated were fine, even after being in close proximity to these two. I'm curious what they will decide to do this year!

    August 23, 2011 at 10:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Midori

      Funny you say that. The past three years, all of my family who got a flu shot got horrible cases of flu... While the vaccine might help some, I think it's more guesswork than anything else.

      August 23, 2011 at 17:33 | Report abuse |
  22. Michelle

    The last 2 flu vaccines I received were in 2000 and 2001...I contracted the worst cases of flu in those two years that I was vaxxed than anytime prior or since (one flu bout 9 days long, one 12 days), I haven't been vaccinated since, I also have not had the flu since...I will stick with not vaccinating and care for my health pro-actively with good nutrition, keeping my immunities up naturally the way I have in the last 10 years since my last vaccination. Do what is right
    for you, but stop wishing the flu on those of us who
    CHOOSE not to be sucked in by the vaccine hype. I'm happy and healthy and if the last 10 years of no flu vaccination is an indicator, I will be staying not only vaccine free, but flu-free as well..i wish you all Good Health.

    August 24, 2011 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Rhonda

    For people who do not believe the flu shot works, my mother and I use to get a cold/flu approx. 2 times a year. My mother has gotten a flu shot the last two years and has not had a cold/flu since getting the first shot. I have never gotten a flu shot and I have a cold/flu now and I just had it 4months ago. I'm getting a flu shot as soon as it'a available – I'm sick of being sick.

    August 28, 2011 at 22:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. deneeng

    So annoying- the question was not answered, just spoken around. Is it or is it not too early to get a flu shot? She could have just said yes or no.

    September 2, 2011 at 07:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Angela Gill

    I have gotten a flu shot for years and I have never gotten the flu. My grandchild got the flu mist and she was around kids at daycare that were not vaccinated and they got the flu one after another. She never got it and was well the whole time. It works. Even if you took a flu shot and did get the flu it would not be anywhere near as severe as if you didn't get the shot. I work at a health department and it is very worth getting. If you have a chance to protect yourself from something why not do it. Of course it is an individual choice but personally I would never go without getting it. Whatever you decide to do.. Stay well and healthy!

    September 2, 2011 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Lynna

    I got my first flu shot last year after the doctor convinced me that with my recent diabetes diagnosis it would be a good preventative measure. In previous years, I'd get really sick for a day or 2 and bounce right back, often missing only a few hours of work. Last year, I not only had the flu twice, but I missed a total of 11 days of work and ended up in urgent care twice. I know it works for some people; my grandparents swear by it. However, I won't be getting it this year or ever again.

    September 23, 2011 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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