“The most important thing right now, I would say is to make a plan. We know that people who have a plan to get there [and] get a vaccination are much more likely to get it than people who intend to get it but don’t make a plan,” said Dr. Anne Liu.
It’s fall, which means it’s the start of respiratory virus season.
Beyond washing your hands, staying home if you’re sick and considering masking in crowded spaces, there are also vaccines available to help protect you from severe disease from three of the circulating viruses.
For people 6 months and older, the updated COVID-19 vaccine is now available, along with the annual flu shot. For eligible older adults, 60 and up, a new vaccine also protects against respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.
Experts say they’re all important vaccines for protection this fall and winter. So, it’s important to make time to get the shots you’re eligible for.
“The most important thing right now, I would say, is to make a plan. We know that people who have a plan to get... a vaccination are much more likely to get it than people who intend to get it but don’t make a plan,” said Dr. Anne Liu, a clinical associate professor of infectious diseases at Stanford Medicine in California.
She said you should make vaccine appointments for yourself and your family — and put them in your calendar so you don’t forget.
And when it comes to timing your shots, doctors say there’s an ideal schedule you should follow. Here’s when that is:
You should get your flu shot in September or October.
According to Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, an infectious disease specialist at Mayo Clinic, now is a great time to get your flu vaccine. It’s currently available at pharmacies and doctor’s offices around the country.
If you don’t get the jab this month, you can still get good flu protection by getting the shot by mid-October, Liu said.
“If you want to really optimize the timing, then generally getting it in mid-October is a good time because the respiratory virus season will then get going,” Liu explained. “And, usually, the flu season really gets going in late November, December.”
Getting your flu shot during this timeframe is a good way to ensure your body has time to respond to the vaccination before flu cases become more prevalent, Liu noted.
You should also get your updated COVID shot now.
As of this month, there are new COVID-19 vaccines available that target the circulating strains of the virus. Specifically, the new shots target XBB.1.5, an omicron subvariant that was dominant when the development of the shots began.
While XBB.1.5 is no longer dominant, these new shots are still a better match against the commanding COVID subvariants. So, it’ll provide you with good protection.
“Cases seem to be rising across the United States, and so I would say, get your COVID vaccine now if you’re eligible to get it, which pretty much everyone over the age of 6 months is,” Sampathkumar said.
One exception: If you recently had the last COVID-19 booster, you should wait at least two months for the new vaccine, according to Liu.
Additionally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who recently had a COVID-19 infection can consider waiting three months after infection for their shot. If you recently had COVID but want a shot, talk to your doctor for the ideal timing for you.
The flu shot, RSV shot and COVID vaccine can all protect you from serious outcomes like hospitalization and death.
For some, it is a good time to get the RSV shot — but not for all.
Keep in mind that the RSV shot is only available to people 60 and up, and it’s not recommended to everyone in that age group.
“This vaccine is most likely to benefit those people who are at really high risk of RSV,” Sampathkumar said, adding that this includes people who are of higher age (like 80 and up) and people who are immunosuppressed.
“The other group would be people with serious heart or lung complications; those people also tend not to tolerate RSV very well,” Sampathkumar said.
The RSV vaccine is a one-time shot you can get now or whenever your doctor deems fit.
But Liu said RSV tends to be a fall-winter virus, so it’s important to be protected before we get deep into virus season. In other words, if you and your doctor decide you need the RSV shot, it’s best to get it soon.
You can get all of the shots you’re eligible for simultaneously.
If you are eligible for all three shots, you can get them all at the same time, both experts told HuffPost.
If you’re under 60 or only eligible for COVID and flu shots, you can also get those two vaccines simultaneously.
“I know a lot of people may want to space it out because of the concern for just feeling kind of crummy after each injection, but some people want to just get that all over with at the same time — and I think that’s very reasonable,” said Liu. “And it’s safe to do so.”
Additionally, she said that if you’re more likely to get all of the vaccinations you’re eligible for if you get them together, then you should do that.
If you are sick, it’s essential to take precautions.
These vaccines are your best chance at preventing serious complications from one (or all) of these viruses. You still may get sick this season ― but it’ll likely be a much better (and milder) outcome if you’re protected.
If you get sick this fall or winter, “get tested to find out what it is,” Sampathkumar said. This way, you’ll know what kind of illness you’re dealing with and can take the right precautions to protect those around you. What’s more, certain medicines from your doctor can help you feel better depending on your virus.
It’s also critical to follow the mitigation strategies that work — stay home if you’re sick, wash your hands for 20 seconds and stay away from other people.
“I’m excited that we have all of these tools going into the winter respiratory virus season, and hopefully, it will keep people protected on some level,” Liu said.
If the above vaccine timing doesn’t align with your schedule, that does not mean you shouldn’t get the shots. Liu stressed that it’s most important to get the shots that you’re able to get, no matter the month.
“The number one best time is when it is most convenient,” Liu said. “I think that there’s a lot people do to try to optimize the timing, and I think sometimes that actually winds up being that it doesn’t happen because life is busy.”
Liu added, “So, really, the best time is when you are more will most likely to get [vaccinated].”