MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The end of summer marks the unofficial start to flu season in many places.
All across Minnesota, workplaces, doctors’ offices and drug stores have been offering the flu shot. For years, the Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health have recommended people get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available, which is generally the middle to end of September.
“Now is a great time to be getting your influenza vaccine,” said Dr. Aaron DeVries, the director of the infectious disease division at the Minnesota Department of Health.
DeVries says every flu season is different, but it typically begins in early October and November and peaks in December, January or February.
“It’s always hard to predict when influenza is going to impact our community,” he said. “This is why we have had this time frame in advance of most of the activity in Minnesota.”
Other experts don’t agree with this time frame. They suggest people wait until they see regional flu activity in their area.
“Now is not the time to get it, we need to wait until we get closer to really substantial flu activity,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, the head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
He said brand new research from last year’s season shows the immunity of the flu vaccine wanes after three months. He said he also understands people are taking a chance by waiting, but believes they’re taking a chance by getting the vaccine now.
“Absolutely, it’s like trying to gauge the stock market,” he said. “But what I do know for certain, based on these studies, that if I get vaccinated now and major flu activity is in January or February, I may have no protection left.”
DeVries says if a person receives the shot in September, it will work through the entire flu season. He says studies done over years have shown the vaccine does wane over months, but continues to work. He also points out it takes one to two weeks for the vaccine to kick in.
“If we could predict what influenza would be like this year, we could say, yes, get you flu shot in a time frame where you have enough time for your body to respond, but it’s really hard to predict,” he said.
Both doctors would like to see more research and data over different years and different strains.
“I think we need more data. I’d be the first to say I think the three studies don’t give us the final answer, but they surely do have a consistent message,” Osterholm said. “What I think would be the worst situation is doing what we’ve always done because that’s how we’ve always done it.