EVERETT — Halloween candy and flu shots are already being peddled by some stores.
You might want to resist the temptation. Not for the candy — for the shot.
“It’s too early,” said Dr. Yuan-Po Tu, who monitors influenza for The Everett Clinic. “We want everybody to get a flu shot. We want them to get it in the fall, not in the summer, even though it is being offered.”
The vaccine-induced immunity can wane over time, and lower defenses to whatever punch will come at the end of the 2019-20 flu season.
“While it’s definitely better to get your flu shot early rather than not at all, we recommend holding off just a little bit longer unless your health care provider suggests otherwise,” said Heather Thomas, spokesperson for the Snohomish Health District.
“The peak of flu seasons can shift from year to year, making it a bit hard to pinpoint the ‘perfect’ time to get your flu shot. However, getting one by the end of October is a good rule of thumb to follow.”
In the 2018-19 flu season, which peaked twice, there were 26 deaths from the virus in Snohomish County and 241 statewide.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop.
“Ideally you want everybody to be vaccinated in October,” Tu said. “That’s hard to do. At The Everett Clinic last year we vaccinated 65,000 people. The issue is how do you vaccinate a lot of people in a very short period of time if you tell them to all come in October. Then you start a little bit earlier.”
The last week in September is fine, Tu said. That’s when clinic staff get vaccinated.
The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October.
Why are some stores pushing the shot now?
Because they have it.
“Depending on who you are and how much flu vaccine you buy, it might come into your warehouse now or it might be a month from now,” Tu said.
A banner in front of the Safeway store in Silver Lake reads “Free flu shots” (with most insurance) and offers a 10% off shopping coupon. Inside the store at 11031 19th Ave SE, the pitch on the overheard speakers urges shoppers to get a flu shot. A sign by the pharmacy promotes flu shots.
A check with the Bartell Drugs across the street found that flu shots were not being given yet. At Costco, a few blocks down, the person at the pharmacy said it would be October.
Tu said The Everett Clinic’s flu shot campaign doesn’t end after October. “We make a big push in November and December,” he said.
Getting the vaccine later, even if flu is peaking, is still likely of benefit.
“The normal flu season is 12 to 14 weeks,” Tu said. “Last year we had the longest flu season on record. It was close to 18-20 weeks.”
There were around 800 positive tests for the flu in the week leading into March 17 at Everett Clinic. Providence Regional Medical Center Everett and its emergency room had also been at near capacity.
The vaccines are updated annually to better match circulating viruses. “The reason you get a flu shot every year is because the flu virus changes and the formulation changes,” Tu said.
Even then it’s not an exact science.
The 2018-19 flu season was unusual. Early on, the predominant virus was Influenza A H1N1. Then it was Influenza A H3N2, which could be more life-threatening for seniors and people with chronic health conditions.
“At the end of last flu season it was apparent the flu virus was mutating,” Tu said. “The flu virus came in two waves. The virus circulating in the second half of the year was mutated and was not matched to the vaccine.”
It is too early to know what twists this flu season has in store.
The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine. Those under 5 and seniors are at the highest risk for developing complications from the flu.
Of the 241 deaths in the 2018-19 season, 167 were of people 65 or older.
Flu symptoms typically start suddenly and include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, fatigue and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea.