It’s not even the fall yet but pharmacies and big chain stores in New Jersey like Walmart and Target are already urging you to get your flu shot.

An influenza vaccine in summer?

“It is not too early to get the flu shot right now because you don’t want to miss the opportunity to get protection early on,” said Dr. Tina Tan, the state epidemiologist for New Jersey.

She stressed flu season is very unpredictable.

“We don’t know exactly when flu season will start picking up, and it’s really important for people to get vaccinated before flu really circulates in the community so that you have enough time to get protection.”

It takes a few weeks for immunity to start to build up in your system after getting a flu shot. Tan says even if you got a flu shot last year, you need to get another one now.

“There’s the issue of waning immunity from the seasonal flu shot, but there’s also the issue of the changing flu strains with every single year,” she said.

“Protection is thought to last about a year, that will also depend on individual people. Older individuals might have a little bit shorter protection from the flu vaccines.”

So how bad will flu season be this year?

“Flu is unpredictable. It’s going to be really hard for us to say how severe the season might be. That’s why we do surveillance all year round,” she said.

Tan says last year flu season was a little more severe than normal “because we had an influenza AH3 season, which is typically related to more severe illnesses.”

She also pointed out “it is too early to tell whether or not this year’s vaccine is a good match for what’s circulating.”

She said the strains of flu in other parts of the world may eventually impact New Jersey and the rest of the country, but mutations may occur, making it difficult to predict how effective the flu shot will be, and how severe the season may be.

“Even if we have the same flu strains that circulate in Australia, it might be a little bit different by the time it gets up here,” she said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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