Fall is in full swing and ready or not, it’s time to start thinking about flu season. According to the experts at flu.gov, seasonal flu activity usually peaks in January or February, but it can occur as early as October. This means one thing for folks who don’t want their travel plans derailed by the flu—get your vaccination now! Getting vaccinated each year remains the best way to protect yourself against the flu and makes you 60% less likely to need flu treatment from a healthcare provider. Want to learn more about the flu vaccine? We’re here to address some common questions and concerns about the flu vaccine:
Q: Who should get the flu vaccine?
A: According to the CDC, everyone 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine.
Q: Who should NOT get the flu vaccine?
A: Talk to your doctor about vaccination if you have a severe allergy to chicken eggs; a history of severe reaction to a flu vaccination; a moderate to severe illness with a fever (you should wait until you are better to get the vaccine) and a history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS).
Q: I got the flu vaccine last year. Do I need it again this year?
A: Yes, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated every year for a couple reasons. First, new flu vaccines are made each year and often updated to fight against the three influenza viruses research suggests will be the most common this year. Second, immunity declines over time so a yearly vaccination is required for optimal protection.
Q: How late is too late to be vaccinated?
A: While it’s certainly not too late to get the vaccine in December or beyond, early immunization—before the flu season really starts picking up momentum—is by far the most effective.
Q: I’m going on a trip soon—when should I get vaccinated?
A: Get your shot at least two weeks before your trip since it takes two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.
Q: Are there specific populations who are at higher risk of complications from the flu?
A: Children and infants, pregnant women, senior citizens, people with disabilities, people with health conditions and travelers/expats abroad.
Q: I don’t like shots. Is the flu shot my only option for getting treated with the flu vaccine?
A: Nope, you’re in luck! The flu vaccine is available as a shot and nasal spray. The nasal spray is an option for healthy people (not pregnant and no underlying medical conditions that predispose you to influenza complications) 2-49 years of age. The flu shot is approved for use in healthy people older than 6 months and people with chronic health conditions.
Q: Do the flu shot and nasal spray both protect against the same virus strains?
A: Yes! No worries there.
Q: Does the flu vaccine give you the flu?
A: No, the flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. The viruses in the vaccine are either killed (flu shot) or weakened (nasal spray vaccine) which means they cannot cause infection. However, you could experience some mild side effects such as soreness/muscle aches, headaches, and fever. Mild side effects usually begin soon after you receive the vaccine and last 1-2 days. Serious side effects, such as difficulty breathing, swelling, racing heart and a high fever are also possible and could begin within a few minutes to a few hours. If you experience any of these reactions, seek medical attention immediately.
Q: Does the flu vaccine work the same for everyone?
A: No. In general, the flu vaccine works best amongst healthy adults and children older than 2 years of age. Reduced benefits of flu vaccine are often found in studies of those younger than 2 years of age and adults 65 years of age and older.
Q: Can’t I just take antiviral drugs to prevent the flu instead?
A: Antiviral drugs are a good second line of defense against the flu but should not be a replacement for the vaccine. However, if you’ve been exposed to a person with the flu, antiviral drugs can help prevent you from getting sick. Talk to your health care provider if you think you need antiviral drugs, as they can only be obtained with a prescription.
Q: How much does the vaccine cost?
A: Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines, but you should check with your insurance company before getting vaccinated. If you do not have insurance or if it does not cover vaccines, help is available.
Q: Enough already, I want the vaccine! Where can I get it?
A: You can get a flu shot at your doctor’s office, local health department, pharmacy, urgent care clinic, and often your school, college health center, or sometimes your workplace. Visit the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to locate where you can get a flu shot.
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