Q&A: Talking Flu Shots with Nicola Klein, Director of Kaiser Permanente’s Vaccine Study Center

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Young hispanic girl getting a flu shot with her mother looking on.

Nicola Klein, MD, PhD, is director of the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center, where she leads research that helps ensure the nation’s vaccines are safe and effective. The center does this by advancing scientific understanding of vaccines at all stages of development. They conduct vaccine clinical trials and collaborate with federal agencies to perform vaccine safety and effectiveness studies that help protect public health.

Dr. Klein’s latest research raised some interesting questions about when influenza vaccinations are most effective, so we spoke with her to learn more and answer some common flu vaccine questions. 

Nicola Klein, MD, PhD

 Nicola Klein, MD, PhD

Who should get a flu shot?

The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination — the flu shot — for everyone 6 months or older unless they have a medical reason not to do so. You need to get a new flu shot every year regardless of whether or not it is same as the previous year’s flu vaccine. The flu virus often changes from one year to the next, so you need a new flu shot every year.

When should you get a flu shot?

What we want is to have people vaccinated before flu viruses begin to circulate widely, which is typically late fall through early spring, but can vary depending on your exact location. You need to get your flu shot before flu season begins because it takes up to two weeks after being vaccinated for antibodies against flu to develop and provide protection.

That said, it’s better to still get your flu shot late than not at all. If you’re unsure about what’s best for you, talk with your doctor.

Can you get your flu shot too early?

We recently published new research in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases that found evidence that the flu vaccine’s effectiveness wanes over the course of the flu season. But that doesn’t mean you should delay your flu shot or risk not getting it at all. This study will help inform policymakers and scientists so we can optimize flu vaccine effectiveness.

What we want to achieve during flu season is high vaccine coverage so as many people as possible have lowered their risk of getting the flu. Achieving that is a massive endeavor, but we hope the results from this study will help inform future campaigns so we can prevent as many cases of the flu as possible.

How else are you working to ensure flu vaccinations are as safe and effective as possible?

We have several ongoing projects related to flu vaccines, but one really interesting study is examining how well flu vaccinations during pregnancy reduce flu-related hospitalizations. We hope the results from this study will provide insight on the effectiveness of flu vaccination programs for pregnant women, who are particularly vulnerable to the health risks from the flu. The results of that study will be published mid-October.

What else should we know about flu vaccination? 

The flu virus is very contagious and can cause serious health problems. The flu vaccine is safe and effective and getting a flu shot is the most important step everyone can take to stay well and protect themselves and their loved ones against the flu. So, don’t put it off and risk forgetting to get vaccinated.