Is it too late to get a flu shot? We asked the experts.

Covid-19 isn’t the only virus spreading fast this holiday season. After last year’s quiet flu season, influenza is currently on the rise in California, and the state is in the “very high” category for virus transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the midst of surgery, you may be wondering if it’s too late to get a flu shot.

“The short answer is absolutely not,” Dr. Dean Winslow, a professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at Stanford, told SFGATE by phone. “It takes 10 to 14 days to develop antibodies to respond to any type of vaccine, and the flu shot fits that. Christmas is just over 10 days away. Many of us will be gathering together with family and friends, and it’s the perfect time to get vaccinated.”

What’s more, the flu season hasn’t reached its peak this year — and usually doesn’t hit its peak until January or February, added Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. Chin-Hong told SFGATE by phone, “It’s starting to rain, but it’s slowing down, so they can still repair the roof.”

What if you already have a cold? You still need to get the follow-up, experts say.

“There are four types of flu included in this vaccine,” Chin-Hong said. “Different strains circulate seasonally, so if you get the flu early in the season, you’ll have more protection if you get the vaccine now.”

The dominant strain at the moment is H3N2, but that could change in the coming weeks, days and months, and it’s unknown what will happen this year. Although last year’s flu season had fewer numbers than usual, Chin-Hong said the virus lingered into the summer.

The flu vaccine improves every year and generally reduces the number of people who get sick by 40% to 60%, according to the CDC. A study in Chile showed that this year’s vaccine reduced hospitalizations by 49 percent — and Chin-Hong said that level of effectiveness could prevent tens of thousands of hospitalizations in the United States. Winter is ahead of the United States.

Although this year’s vaccine was effective, vaccination rates in certain populations were lower than in previous years. Flu vaccinations for pregnant women are down 10 percent from last year and 20 percent from before the pandemic, the CDC said. Immunization coverage for children 6 months to 17 years old is about the same as last year, but 4.2 percent lower than before the outbreak.

Low vaccination rates may be one of the reasons for this season’s increase. Experts say that loosened pandemic-related restrictions, as well as lack of exposure to the flu during the Covid season, can affect immunity, SFGATE previously reported.

The vaccine can prevent disease and reduce symptoms if you do get sick, according to the CDC. The vaccine is approved for people 6 months of age and older. According to the CDC’s December 9 report, 13 million people have contracted the flu so far, 120,000 have been hospitalized, and 7,300 have died.



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