It’s Time to Get Your Flu Shot

Don’t Let the Flu Bug You

There’s nothing quite like fall in our neck of the woods. The weather gets comfortably cooler, the leaves change color, high school football consumes our lives and everything has a pumpkin flavor or scent added to it.

It’s also the unofficial start of flu season.

With our recent focus on COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters, it may be easy to forget about getting an annual flu shot. A flu shot will often protect you from coming down with the flu. And, although the flu shot doesn't always provide total protection, it's still worth getting.

Influenza (flu) vaccines (of flu shots) protect against the four common influenza viruses during flu season. Most flu shots are just that: a shot given with a needle, usually in the arm. But there is also a nasal spray flu vaccine.

Let’s talk flu

Influenza (or flu) is a respiratory infection that can cause serious complications, particularly in young children, older adults and people with certain medical conditions. Long story short: It’s no fun, and it can (and should) be prevented. Getting an influenza vaccine is the best way to bypass the misery of the flu and its many unpleasant complications.

Every year. Really?

Flu viruses are smart and evolve quickly. Last year's vaccine may not protect you from this year's viruses. New flu vaccines are released every year to keep up with the constant, rapidly adapting flu viruses that are determined to make you sick.

When you get vaccinated, your immune system produces antibodies to protect you from the viruses that are included in the vaccine. Antibody levels may decline over time, which is why getting a flu shot every year is vital to your health.

Who should get a flu shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone age six months or older. It’s  especially important for people at high risk of flu-related complications, including:

  • Pregnant women
  • Older adults
  • Young children
  • People with weakened immune systems

Children between six months and eight years old may need two doses of the flu vaccine, given at least four weeks apart, the first time they are given a flu vaccine. After that, they can receive single annual doses of the flu vaccine. A recent study showed that the vaccine can significantly lower a child's risk of dying of the flu. Talk to your child’s doctor about their flu shot for more information.

Chronic medical conditions also can increase your risk of influenza complications, such as:

  • Asthma
  • Brain or nervous system conditions
  • Cancer or cancer treatment
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Obesity

Anyone with a chronic medical condition should get the flu vaccine. People living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities should also get vaccinated for the flu.

A flu shot won’t give you the flu

The flu vaccine can't give you the flu. It also doesn’t increase your risk of COVID-19. You may develop flu-like symptoms for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Reaction to the vaccine – Some people experience muscle aches and a fever for a day or two after receiving a flu vaccine. This may be a side effect of your body's production of protective antibodies.
  • A two-week window –  It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to take full effect. If you're exposed to the flu shortly before or during that time, you might catch the flu.
  • Mismatched flu viruses – The influenza viruses used for the vaccine don't always match the viruses circulating during the flu season. If this occurs, your flu shot will be less effective, but may still offer protection.
  • Other illnesses – The common cold also produces flu-like symptoms, so you may think you have the flu when you don't.

Check with your doctor before receiving a flu shot if you had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine because some reactions might not be directly related to the vaccine. You can also receive a flu vaccine if you have an egg allergy.

Other ways to avoid the flu

The flu vaccine is your best defense against the flu, but there are other tried-and-true things you can do to help protect yourself:

  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water aren't available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Avoid large crowds.
  • Avoid being in close contact with others who are sick.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces, such as counters, light switches or doorknobs.
  • Practice good health habits - Get regular exercise, get enough sleep, drink plenty of fluids, eat a healthy diet and manage stress.

Get the shot

Getting your flu vaccine can reduce your risk of the flu and its complications, both for you and your loved ones. Talk to your doctor about getting a flu vaccine as soon as possible.