If you get a flu shot, and particularly if you tend to get it early, you should read this post.
The issues below underscore a concept of medical care I’ve come to accept as fact from decades of medical consumerism and personal experience as a cancer survivor: In order to get the best medical care, we need to be well-informed, act as our own personal medical advocate and ask the right questions of our doctors.
Most have probably heard that the flu vaccine is not 100% effective under the best of circumstances – last year’s vaccine had an overall effectiveness of about 40%. So anything we can do to boost our protection is important – and it seems the particular month we get a flu shot can make a difference in our flu protection status late in the flu season.
The influenza vaccine usually becomes available sometime in August and I typically get my dose the first week in September. But according to this study, by getting my shot early, I may be giving up protection later in the flu season. Maximum flu immunity peaks a couple of weeks after receiving the vaccination and declines 6-11% per month after that and may reach zero effectiveness after five months.
The study seems to imply if you receive the vaccine in August or early September like I do, you may not have any immunity left by February/March. And that’s really significant according to the CDC, because if you use last year’s flu season as an example, significant flu activity extended throughout March.
If you typically receive your vaccine in August/September, you may want to discuss the above study with your personal physician. Delaying your flu shot until November might create better flu protection for future Februarys and Marchs moving forward.
I first heard about this declining immunity issue last month when one of my clients told me her doctor discouraged her from receiving the flu vaccine until November because the effectiveness wears off over the season. I did some research and, also, an informal survey of some of my clients – most had never heard of this issue.
Apparently there are other studies that have shown that the influenza vaccine declines in effectiveness, so it’s kind of depressing to not be informed about this issue from public health authorities, our personal physicians and prominent flu shot providers like CVS and Rite Aid.
If you want some additional information, this article does a good job of covering influenza and flu vaccine facts and also has links to several other articles; and this recent NY Times article discusses the high-dose flu vaccine.
Lastly, it’s always good to implement any flu prevention strategies we can:
a) Wash hands/use hand sanitizer often
b) Avoid touching nose/mouth/eyes
c) Cover mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough – and if you don’t have a cloth or tissue available to cover your nose/mouth, use the crook of your elbow to avoid contaminating your hands
d) Avoid crowds if the flu is active in your area
e) Who knows, maybe adapt the prominent Asian practice of wearing a face mask