We can no longer deny the signs, the sun is setting earlier, and kids are back in school, summer is coming to an end. Now is the perfect time, before bugs start spreading in your kids’ class and sneezes begin echoing through your office, to get your recommended yearly flu shots.
To help you decide when, where, and how to get vaccinated, we compiled answers to some of the most common questions we see regarding to flu vaccinations below.
Who should get a flu shot?
Everyone over 6 months of age should receive a flu vaccine yearly, unless a doctor has advised otherwise.
But I’m healthy and getting the flu doesn’t seem like a big deal. Why do I need a flu shot?
No one wants to miss out on their vacation or be two weeks behind at work because of a preventable illness. So while you may be able to get through the flu, why take the risk?
Also, for many in our community the flu is a serious threat to their health and can result in complications that require hospitalization. Getting vaccinated not only helps prevent you from getting ill, it also helps protect those around you who cannot receive the shot because of their age or underlying conditions.
Can I get the flu from the flu shot?
No, flu shots do not cause the flu. This is a common concern but, thankfully, not something that happens.
Flu vaccines given via a needle are made with either “inactivated” viruses that are not infectious or with no viruses at all, so they cannot cause the flu. And the nasal spray flu vaccination is made with live viruses that are significantly weakened, so they do not cause influenza illness or make people sick.
While vaccinations cannot cause the flu, some people do experience mild side effects, including aches and a low grade fever. However, when these side effects occur, they are generally mild and short-lived.
When should I get a flu shot?
The CDC recommends everyone over 6 months of age receive a flu shot by the end of October. Flu activity generally picks up in the fall and it’s best to get the shot before the virus starts spreading in your community and workplace.
However, the flu season can last well in to the spring. So, even if you miss the recommended window, it is still worth getting vaccinated later in the season.
Why should I get a shot so early in the fall?
It takes two weeks from the time you receive your flu shot for the antibodies that protect you from the virus to develop in your body. So, if you’re exposed to someone with the flu, you may be too late to avoid the same feverish fate.
For kids who have never received a flu vaccination before and require two doses of the vaccine, it’s especially important to think ahead. The two doses need to be given 4 weeks apart and take two weeks to provide adequate protection against the virus.
Will the shot be effective against the flu this season?
It’s not possible to perfectly predict what strains of flu will be common in a given year. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) does its best to provide accurate recommendations for the upcoming season’s flu vaccines based on which influenza viruses were most common in the previous year, how those viruses are spreading, and how well the previous season’s vaccine protects against those viruses.
Despite varying levels of effectiveness from year to year, flu vaccines still help prevent a significant number of people from getting sick, lower rates of hospitalization due to the flu, and help protect vulnerable populations.
What if I or my kids hate shots?
Good news! The nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV) is available this season for non-pregnant individuals, ages 2 through 49 years old.
For those ages 18 to 64 years old who hate shots, the intradermal flu vaccine is another alternative. The intradermal flu vaccine uses a needle 90% smaller than your traditional shot to inject the vaccine into your skin, rather than your muscle.
Both options are not as widely available as the flu shot so make sure to call ahead to your doctor or pharmacy to be certain they offer these alternatives.
What if I’m over 65 years old and concerned about getting the flu?
There are two vaccines that are specifically recommended for people who are 65 years of age or older: the “high dose” vaccine and the “adjuvanted” flu vaccine, Fluad. Both options have been found to be more effective at preventing the flu than standard vaccinations and can help you avoid costly doctor’s appointments.
Where can I get a flu shot?
You can use the online HealthMap Vaccine Finder to easily find pharmacy and clinic locations where vaccines are available based on your zip code. Remember to call ahead to ensure that the vaccine you need is currently available, especially if you are interested in the nasal spray flu vaccine or the intradermal flu vaccine.
Originally published on Sept. 7, 2018.