Wyoming, wait for October to get your flu shot. Here's why

By Kristy Bleizeffer Sep 1, 2015

Three looks of the influenza A virus, from left: A colorized transmission micrograph of Avian flu (CDC), Influenza A 'late passage' (CDC), and 'H1N1 navbox' (Cybercobra)

Three looks of the influenza A virus, from left: A colorized transmission micrograph of Avian flu (CDC), Influenza A 'late passage' (CDC), and 'H1N1 navbox' (Cybercobra)

Since the beginning of August, bright neon signs have popped up in the parking lots of Casper supermarkets and pharmacies: “Flu shots here today!”

Not so fast, says Dr. Mark Dowell, an infectious disease doctor at Wyoming Medical Center and Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases.  Getting flu shots this early probably won’t protect you against Wyoming’s typically late-starting flu season. (If you are a patient with a compromised immune system, follow your doctor's advice on when to get the vaccine.)

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does recommend starting the vaccinations now, local factors should influence the timing, said Dowell, who also serves as Natrona County’s Health Officer. 

“When you apply our local flu patterns over the last – well, I’ve been here 23 years – it doesn’t make sense to start giving flu shots this early. At Wyoming Medical Center, we are recommending that we start flu shots on Oct. 1 and not earlier,” he said.

Wyoming’s flu season doesn’t generally start until December or January. Often it starts as late as February, March or April. The flu shot is good for four to six months, but its effectiveness decreases over time. Therefore, people who have already gotten their flu shot will probably not have the strongest immunity by the time Wyoming’s flu season rolls around.

“As we age, it’s less effective anyway. So if someone who is 65 years old gets a flu shot too early, they may not have any protection when the actual flu season hits,” Dowell said.

Dr. Mark Dowell is medical director of infection control at Wyoming Medical Center

Dr. Mark Dowell is medical director of infection control at Wyoming Medical Center

What does this year’s shot protect against? 
This is expected to be an average flu season, Dowell said.

Each year, the vaccine includes protection against two strains of Influenza A and one strain of the typically milder Influenza B. New formulations are made depending on the flu strains most likely to cause illness in the coming season.

Who should get a flu shot? 
The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get a flu shot, particularly people who are very young or very old or who may suffer from other chronic illnesses.

Pregnant women can get the flu shot, and they are also at higher risk if they get the flu because they have two lives at stake. It’s also important to get vaccinated because we shed the virus before we even know that we are sick.

When should I get the shot?
In October or November, but not before if you live in Wyoming, unless otherwise ordered by your doctor, Dowell said.

The shot lasts between four to six months, but is strongest after two to four weeks. Its effectiveness decreases with time after that first 2- to 4-week period when your body is building its immunity. Wyoming Medical Center requires all 1,300 of our employees to get flu shots and will administer them between Oct. 1 and Nov. 20.

If you put off getting the shot until December, you should still get one. If the season comes in late January or in February, March or April like it has the last several years, you’ll still be protected.

What if I got my flu shot in August? Should I get another one?
No. There’s no data to show that it would increase your protection. Plus, getting two flu shots so closely together could increase the chance of adverse side effects such as a sore arm or fever.

“It’s not worth it and it’s never been proven that a second shot would actually protect you more in a particular season,” Dowell said.

“Just wait it out and live your life. Take the same preventative measures that you always take in the winter against influenza: Cover your face if you are coughing, wash your hands and be smart about it. That hasn’t changed.

“Just don’t get your shot so early next year. Wait until October."

Dr. Mark Dowell is an infectious disease specialist with Wyoming Medical Center and Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases (RMID), 1450 E. A St. He is the Natrona County health officer and is board certified in infectious disease and internal medicine.  RMID offers a full-breadth of outpatient infectious disease care and is looking to expand its outreach clinics. It has three full-time physicians, a half-time physician and a full-time nurse practitioner. For more information, appointments or referrals, call RMID at (307) 234-8700.