7 things you should know about getting a flu shot
1. Flu facts
The flu, that miserable week-long or more state of fever, aches, sore throat, dripping nose, headache and general awfulness, is caused by strains of Influenza A and B. The virus has an insidious tendency to mutate, making it necessary to reconfigure the vaccine every year to stay current with the latest versions.(1) Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. (2)
2. The flu vaccine
The vaccine is developed by studying strains of the flu circulating in the southern hemisphere during their winter to forecast what might circulate during ours. A trivalent vaccine protects against two strains of Influenza A and one of Influenza B; a quadrivalent vaccine covers two strains from each. (3) The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended this year.
3. Who should get the vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends that with very rare exceptions, everyone older than six months should get the vaccine.
4. Why should everyone get the vaccine?
Aside from the discomfort flu creates, it also causes missed days from work and school, increased hospitalizations and thousands of deaths per year. (In the past 31 seasons, the number of deaths per year from the flu ranged from 3,300 to 49,000.) (3) From a “greater good” perspective, the more individuals protected from the vaccine, the fewer will pass the virus on to vulnerable populations like your grandparents or your sister’s newborn infant.
5. Can I get the flu from the shot?
Everyone knows someone who thinks they got the “flu” from the flu shot. The vaccine itself cannot give the flu; the viruses are inactivated (read: dead). Possible side effects could include a low grade fever, aches and soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given. The vaccine takes two weeks to be effective, so it is possible to get the flu after receiving the vaccine if exposure occurred before vaccination. (4)
6. How effective is the vaccine?
The vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year, but when the vaccine is well-matched with the flu strains that are most prevalent, the risk of getting the flu can be reduced between 50 and 60%. (3) It isn’t perfect, but if you do the math, it is better than 0% reduction in risk without the vaccine.
7. When should I get the vaccine?
There is some debate about the when. The CDC recommends getting the shot as soon as possible. Some research suggests that protection from the vaccine may decrease among those vaccinated early (5), but other research indicates that protection continues to the following flu season if the strains in the vaccine do not change. Laura Haynes, an immunologist at University of Connecticut Center for Aging, encourages vaccination in October, especially for older populations. (3)
Where to get a vaccine in your zip code:
Read here about special vaccines for individuals over 65:
2016-2017 updates on the flu vaccine:
Tedla K. Flu vaccine updates for 2016-2017. American Council On Science and Health website. September 25, 2016.
Flu Vaccination: Why should people get vaccinated against the flu? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Accessed Oct. 1, 2016.
Appleby J. Getting a flu shot? It may be better to wait. CNN: Health website. September 27, 2016.
Can I get vaccinated and still get the flu? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Accessed Oct. 1, 2016.
Stein R. CDC urges Americans to get a flu shot as soon as possible. NPR website. Sept. 29, 2016.