When Is the Best Time to Get a Flu Shot?

Get your flu shot *before* there’s an outbreak in your community.

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You might associate the seasonal flu with the winter months, and it’s true that cases often soar in January and February. However, by the time there’s snow on the ground, it might be past the best time for the flu shot. After all, if you wait until influenza is already circulating in your school or workplace, you may risk exposure before you have protection.

The Best Time for the Flu Shot

You want protection against the seasonal flu before you come into contact with someone who has it. It may take about two weeks after the flu shot to build up protective antibodies. That’s why it’s too late for the vaccine once your kid comes home with the flu. By the time you build up antibodies, you may already have the infection.

(Side note: This is why some people mistakenly believe that the flu shot gave them the flu. In reality, they likely came into contact with the virus while their body was still building antibodies. You can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine.)

Cases of the seasonal flu usually start creeping up in October. They are often the highest between December and February. The best time to book a flu shot appointment is before flu season starts, such as by the end of October. Getting the flu shot then can also help lower your risk of infection during all the string of fall and winter holidays. That's a time when you may likely be gathering with others.

Is It Ever Too Late to Get the Flu Vaccine?

Even if you don’t receive the flu shot during the ideal time in September or October, it’s not necessarily too late. Some flu seasons last well into spring, so even a flu shot in February could help you. Still, you never know when flu exposure can happen, so it’s best not to delay.

Plus, when enough people get vaccinated early in your community, you may help prevent an outbreak in the area altogether. Considering some people have risk factors that make them more likely to have flu complications, preventing an outbreak could potentially save lives.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about this year’s flu shot to learn more. You may be eligible to get the flu shot for free or a discounted cost.