By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A top health official is warning this could be the “worst fall” when it comes to public health in the U.S.

Centers for Disease Control chief Robert Redfield says there’s big concern about what could happen as flu season coincides with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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That’s why experts are pushing the influenza vaccine extra hard this year. So, when is the best time to get the flu shot? Good Question.

“We want to get it in late September until late October,” Dr. James Smith, a family medicine resident at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends it by the end of October. The flu season generally runs from October through May, but doesn’t usually peak until January or February.

Given it takes about two weeks for the antibodies to build up in a person’s immune system, that’s the balance between getting the shot too early and too late in the season.

“We want to make sure that you have it late enough that you can go through the entire season,” Smith said.

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The timing guidance for the flu vaccine hasn’t changed this year due to COVID-19, but the sense of urgency among public health officials for influenza vaccinations has increased this year.

“If there’s one thing we all can do — besides the importance of wearing a mask, social distancing, hand washing, and being smart about gatherings — to ultimately prepare ourselves for the fall, is to get the flu vaccine,” Redfield told CBS This Morning last week.

Experts worry not only about stressing the capacity of hospitals, but about the unknowns of COVID-19 during the influenza season.

“We don’t know what it would look like to have both. We’re still learning about COVID,” Smith said. “We also don’t know how having the flu would affect your immunity.”

During the 2018-2019 flu season, 53% of Minnesotans were vaccinated for influenza. Providers are concerned people might not feel comfortable to a clinic or doctor’s office to get the shot. That’s why several clinics in Minnesota will be offering drive-through vaccination sites. Many of those locations will start operating in the beginning of September.

And, if a person doesn’t get the vaccination by the end of October, Smith says it’s still good to get it later in the season.

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“We’re always recommending you get it,” he says. “Anytime, get the vaccine.”

Heather Brown