Get your flu shot! 9 things to know about flu season

It’s that time of year again: as fall rolls around and holiday gatherings approach, so does flu season. That means it’s time to think about another important vaccine you should get this year: your flu shot.

Here are nine things to know about the flu shot and why it’s so crucial this year in particular.

A Gif saying "Flu Vaccine: Get the Facts"

1. You may be able to get a flu vaccine for free in King County.

Flu vaccines are widely available at doctors’ offices, clinics and pharmacies, including at many large grocery store pharmacies without an appointment. Find a provider near you using VaccineFinder.

In Washington, everyone under the age of 19 can get the flu vaccine and other recommended vaccines at no cost from a healthcare provider that participates in the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, regardless of insurance. Your provider may charge a fee to administer the vaccine, but you can ask them to waive this fee if you cannot afford it.

There are about 300 VFC providers in King County, and most require you to establish care in order to get services. Find a VFC provider near you.

If you are 19 and older and have insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid (Apple Health), your flu shot will most likely be covered.

If you don’t have insurance or a healthcare provider, get in touch with the Community Health Access Program, a free and confidential telephone assistance program for King County residents. Call 1-800-756-5437 or email chap@kingcounty.gov. Some community health centers also offer flu shots by appointment to all community members. Call to check on availability and cost.

For more information, visit our Find a Vaccine Clinic webpage.

2. The COVID-19 pandemic means it’s extra important to get the flu vaccine this year.

In 2020, we had historically low levels of flu because so many people were wearing face masks and avoiding crowded settings as part of COVID-19 precautions. Because fewer people had the flu last year, we’re more at-risk for getting it this year. That could mean an early and possibly severe flu season. Now that activities are starting to open up again and more people are gathering, that could also contribute to an increase in flu activity. 

In this video, Immunization Program Manager Libby Page answers some common questions about the flu shot.

Want to stay up to date on flu trends in our area? Track flu data in King County here on our dashboard.

3. It’s safe to get both the flu and COVID-19 vaccine — or booster — at the same time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given the go-ahead to providers to administer both vaccinations at the same time. If you haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine yet, or you need to get a booster, you can save time by getting both at once. You will likely feel soreness at both injection sites (typically on the upper arm) and may experience common side effects like fatigue, fever, headaches and other flu-like symptoms. However, research shows that side effects are similar whether you get the shots together or separately.

Public Health – Seattle & King County is unfortunately not able to offer COVID-19 and flu shots together at our COVID-19 vaccine sites in the Auburn Mall and Kent Clinic due to funding restrictions. Many clinics, doctor’s offices and pharmacies are able to offer both vaccines in one location.

4. In-person school is back in session. That means more flu spread.

Remote school last year helped reduce flu activity, given that school settings are easy spaces for viruses to spread. With schools resuming in-person learning this fall, the flu virus has more opportunities to spread. 

Several King County school districts have school based health centers (SBHC) that are providing flu shots. If your child lives in a district with a SBHC, they can access vaccinations and other healthcare services at no cost. Call ahead to find out about the best time and way to come to the clinic.

5. COVID-19 and the flu share similar symptoms.

COVID-19 and the flu virus will both likely be spreading this fall and winter. You may think you have the flu, but actually have COVID-19— or vice versa. Anyone who has symptoms of the flu or COVID-19 should avoid contact with others  and get tested for COVID-19 immediately. This can help prevent you from accidentally spreading COVID-19 or the flu.

Learn more about similarities and differences between COVID-19 and the flu from the CDC.

6.  October is an ideal time to get your flu shot.

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for your body to fully develop antibodies that protect against the flu. That means that ideally, everyone in the community should be vaccinated by the end of October, before flu activity begins to increase in the community and ahead of holiday gatherings and travel. 

If you can’t get the vaccine in October, that’s okay — flu shots are available throughout the winter.

7. Flu vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and up, including pregnant people.

The flu vaccine has been shown to be safe for everyone 6 months and older. It’s also safe and recommended for pregnant people, who are more likely to develop severe illness if they get the flu. The flu can also be harmful for a developing baby. Getting vaccinated can help protect a baby during their first 6 months of life, since they will get antibodies from their parent while in the womb.

Get more information on flu and pregnancy from the Washington State Department of Health.

People with life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in a flu vaccine, who have had an allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past, have certain rare conditions, or are not feeling well should speak with their health care provider before getting a flu shot. For more info, visit the CDC’s page on who should and should not get the flu shot

A family of four all wears masks, with text reading: "the more people vaccinated, the more people protected."

8. Special vaccines are available for older adults.

There are different flu shots available for people depending on their age. “Adjuvanted” and high-dose shots are available for adults age 65 and older. These create a stronger immune response and result in higher effectiveness and less likelihood of illness. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to understand which vaccine is right for you.

You can learn more about vaccines for older adults from the CDC.

9. If you hate getting a shot, other options are available.

There are many vaccine options to choose from, including an intradermal flu shot that uses a smaller needle. It’s available for adults ages 18 to 64 and provides the same level of protection as the regular flu shot. There is also a nasal spray flu vaccine available which is a good option for most healthy, non-pregnant people ages 2 to 49. If paying out of pocket, these vaccines may cost more.

See more frequently asked questions on the nasal spray flu vaccine.

Make sure to check with your healthcare provider or pharmacy to see which flu vaccine is recommended for you. Regular flu shots are more readily available than these other options, so call ahead to see what is available in your area. 

Originally published on Oct. 19, 2021