Should you get a flu shot? Even if you normally don't get sick, you need one each year. Here's what you should know about this year's flu season and shot.
Airborne viruses circulate the most during colder weather. This fall and winter's flu shot has already arrived in your neighborhood.
Ideally, it’s best to get vaccinated against in September or October, but a shot after that is still be helpful. Last year’s flu shot doesn’t protect you. Flu virus variations change, and the effect of a previous vaccine wears off.
You might not think of it until people in your office or household come down with fevers, body aches, and congestion — but the antibodies the vaccine stimulates take about two weeks to develop.
Vaccination prevents about 7.5 million cases of flu each year in the United States, about the population of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area.
Flus aren’t a small problem. In 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there were about 9 million cases of the flu, 10,000 hospitalizations, about 5,000 deaths. Hospitalizations of people with the flu occurred at the highest rate in a decade. Young children and older adults were most at risk.
You can still get the flu even after a flu shot. If that happens, however, research suggests that being vaccinated lowers your chance of a serious case requiring hospitalization by 26 percent. Your chance of dying from the flu drops by more than 30 percent.
Does the COVID-19 vaccine protect against the flu?
Shots for COVID-19 do not protect you against the flu; flu shots don’t protect you from COVID-19.
Can you get COVID and flu vaccines together?
You can get the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as a flu shot. But the CDC recommends that you get each shot when you need it, rather than delaying or advancing a shot so you can combine them.
You’re taking a risk if you change the schedule and may be a little more likely to feel “fluish” with a headache and fatigue from a combination of the flu and COVID vaccines, compared to receiving a COVID-19 booster vaccine alone.
Flu vaccine options
Flu vaccines are updated every year. Every flu vaccine in the U.S. is “quadrivalent,” meaning it guards against four different variations expected to circulate during the coming flu season. If you have an egg allergy, egg-free versions are available. Seniors are urged to get more powerful protection.
Vaccine options include:
- Fluzone High-Dose and Flublok (egg-free) contain higher doses of the key ingredient. If you prefer a shot using a production technology called recombinant vaccines, ask for Flublok. Be aware that it is designed for seniors and contains a higher dose than standard shots.
- Fluad Adjuvanted, another option, doesn’t have that higher dose but contains a different ingredient to boost your immune response. Ask a pharmacist or check a major drugstore chain website to see where you can get a dose for seniors.
- For children, Flucelvax, an egg-free option once available only for children beginning at age 2, is now recommended beginning at 6 months.
If you prefer receiving your protection through a nasal spray rather than a shot in a muscle in your arm, ask for FluMist, also called LAIV. It is approved for people ages 2 through 49 with some restrictions, such as women who are pregnant.
Is the flu shot safe for children?
Children 6 months through 8 years of age should receive two doses of flu vaccine for best protection during at least one flu season. Once they’ve had a double dose, they can get just one during the next seasons.
Should you get a flu shot?
The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of six months, including pregnant women, get vaccinated against the flu.
Keeping up with viruses isn’t an easy job. Viruses are famous for their ability to mutate speedily, which means officials can’t predict the severity and length of the flu season. In the United States, it may stretch from October through May. But even in the summer, the flu could be a possible cause of respiratory symptoms.
Don’t fear that you’ll get the flu from the shot: It does not contain live viruses, only proteins in the virus.
You may hear that it’s not safe to exercise before or after the shot, but a review of the research found no clear evidence.
There’s also no need to worry about exposure to thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that has caused controversy but is considered safe. Since 2001, officials removed thimerosal from vaccines in individual-dose bottles and nasal sprays.
Some people might shrug that they’ll worry about the flu if they get it. Know that antibiotics won’t help you — they fight bacteria, not viruses. And although anti-viral drugs are available, most people don’t get to the doctor in time to receive their benefit.
Last year’s flu shot won’t protect you. The effect of the flu shot wears off after several months.
September 12, 2023
Janet O’Dell, RN