Is it too late to get a flu shot?

By Ashley Welch

/ CBS News

How to protect yourself in peak flu season

With the start of the new year, flu season has been picking up across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 states are reporting high levels of flu activity.

The virus has already claimed the lives of 13 children so far this flu season. Last year, the flu killed more than 80,000 Americans, including a record 185 children.

The best protection against the flu is the flu shot, but is it too late to get vaccinated?

The short answer is no. While the CDC recommends that people get vaccinated against the flu by the end of October, getting a flu shot later can still be beneficial.

"As long as flu viruses are circulating, it is not too late to get vaccinated, even in January or later," the CDC says on its website.

The timing of seasonal flu outbreaks vary and can begin as early as late October. Flu activity tends to peak between December and February but can last as late as May.

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against the flu virus, so the earlier the shot is administered, the better. But there are a number of reasons to get vaccinated now if you haven't done so already.

"It is recommended that people still get the flu vaccination if they have not already," said infectious disease expert Dr. David Cennimo of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. "Even if you think you had the flu already, it is possible to get a second infection with a different strain, so immunization can still be beneficial."

Healthy adults can also provide what's called herd immunity for others by getting the flu shot. The more people who are vaccinated, the less likely the virus is to spread — protecting those who are most vulnerable, including babies, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems.

Of course, it's still possible to get the flu even if you've gotten the flu shot, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't get vaccinated.

"It's better than nothing, and even if you do go ahead and get the flu it can make that flu less deadly," CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook told "CBS This Morning" in December.

He said this year's vaccine is about 40 percent effective, which is on par with last year's vaccine. He also emphasized that although many people don't get vaccinated over fears that it can cause the flu, that is "scientifically impossible."

"You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine," LaPook said. "Some people get a little bit of a reaction, aches and pains, maybe a low-grade fever, but you take some anti-inflammatories and it goes away."

First published on January 9, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ashley Welch

Ashley Welch covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com

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