Flu shots are already available in many places, and as we’ve noted, it’s especially important to get your flu shot this year. (You don’t want to have COVID and the flu, nor do you want to catch the flu and seek testing and care because you don’t know whether it might be COVID.) So is it time? Go for it now if you like—although if you want to wait, that’s fine, but get it by October.
You can’t predict the exact best time to get the flu shot except in hindsight. Some people prefer not to get the shot too early because it’s possible that the protection of a flu shot fades as the season wears on. But if you wait too long, you won’t be protected if flu season happens to start early.
While these tradeoffs suggest that there might be an optimal window to get the shot, public health scientists have studied the question and found that there isn’t really a clear answer. The best advice they have: Any time is better than putting it off and not getting one at all.
The CDC’s 2020 update on flu shot recommendations includes a brief discussion of the question, in which they conclude that the optimal time to get the shot depends on a bunch of factors we can’t control or predict. For example, if you knew the date the flu would arrive in your town, you could get your shot two weeks ahead of time—perfect. But since you can’t know, it’s best to get one whenever you can.
If you want a recommendation, the CDC’s committee stands by the advice to get your shot by the end of October. Anytime before that is fine. The flu can arrive in your area as early as October, but more often doesn’t start to peak until January, so if you get your shot in October chances are you’re prepared for whatever comes.
Personally, I get mine in September. There are plenty of flu shot clinics around that time, and usually the pharmacies have deals for walk-ins. Also—this is my real reason—I take my kids for their annual check-ups in September. The kids get theirs, I get mine, and we’re all set for the season.
But if you’re passing by the pharmacy each day and wondering if it’s too early? Just go ahead and get the shot now, if you think you might forget by putting it off. Any time is better than never.