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A man gets a flu shot in Washington, DC, in January.
A man gets a flu shot in Washington, DC, in January. Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images

At least two companies that make influenza vaccines have started shipping them out to doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other customers in the United States, but it’s too soon for people to think about getting one.

GlaxoSmithKline said Tuesday it started shipping some of the more than 50 million vaccines it expects to supply for this US flu season. Sanofi Pasteur, another pharmaceutical company, said last week it also started shipments for the US market, but did not say how many doses it expected to make.

Why this matters: US health officials say it will be more important than ever to get a flu vaccine this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. It will be hard enough for hospitals and doctors to deal with one fast-spreading and potentially deadly respiratory virus, let alone two. Plus, no one knows what might happen if people get infected with both viruses at the same time.

Because of this, Glaxo and Sanofi both say they are increasing their production to meet the expected growth in demand.

“GSK expects to supply more than 50 million doses of its influenza vaccines for the US market in the 2020-21 season, an increase from the 46 million it distributed during the 2019-20 influenza season,” the company said in a statement Tuesday.

But people will need to wait to get vaccinated.

“While vaccine shipments to healthcare providers have begun, getting vaccinated in July or August is too early, especially for older people, because of the concern that protection may be reduced if there is too much time between when a vaccination is given and peak flu season. According to CDC, September and October are good times to get vaccinated. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue, even in January or later,” Sanofi said in its statement.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says while it takes two weeks for a flu vaccine to take full effect, people should not get one in summer.

“Getting vaccinated early (for example, in July or August) is likely to be associated with reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season, particularly among older adults,” the CDC says. 

The CDC recommends that just about everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu vaccine every year. The vaccine formulation changes from year to year to try to match the regular mutations of the virus and the changes in what’s circulating.

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