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Experts Suggest Putting Off Flu Shot Until November

Much like Christmas or Halloween, the flu shot season seems to start earlier and earlier every year. Wegmans announced on September 8 that this season’s influenza vaccine is now available at all of its pharmacy locations, and that the number of customers visiting stores for immunization has grown 30 to 40% each year since they began offering the service in 2010.

That’s certainly good news, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages everyone over six months old to get a flu vaccine every season. Widespread immunization helps protect more vulnerable populations from catching the flu.

However, some experts warn that getting the flu shot too early in the season may not be effective all winter through.

“The data are very mixed,” said Dr. John J. Treanor, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Rochester medical school.

Flu season generally starts in the fall, peaks in January, and can last until spring, but it’s not clear how long a flu shot’s effectiveness lasts, particularly in older populations.

“So some might worry that if [they] got vaccinated very early and flu didn’t show up until very late, it might not work as well,” Treanor said. Yet other studies suggest that “you still have protection from the shot you got last year if it’s a year when the strains didn’t change.”

People over 65 are most susceptible to severe flu symptoms, which can sometimes result in hospitalization or death, and they’re also the least responsive to the protective effects of vaccination, which wear off more quickly than in younger people.

“If you’re over 65, don’t get the flu vaccine in September. Or August. It’s a marketing scheme,” said Laura Haynes, an immunologist at the University of Connecticut Center on Aging.

Relaxed regulations, which have allowed drugstore pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens to deliver flu shots, have also resulted in promotional tactics offering shopping discounts to customers after getting the vaccine.

So when should you get a flu shot?

“The ideal time is between Halloween and Thanksgiving,” said Haynes. “If you can’t wait, and the only chance is to get it in September, then go ahead and get it. It’s best to get it early rather than not at all.”