Questions and Answers About the Flu Vaccine
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting an annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from the flu. The CDC recommends that everyone older than six months of age get a flu shot each year, especially those who are at heightened risk. This includes children younger than age 5, adults older than age 65, pregnant women, and those who have chronic medical conditions including but not limited to asthma, lung disease, HIV, cancer, or obesity. Read on to get the answers to common questions about the seasonal flu shot.
Why Do I Need to Get Vaccinated?
Even healthy people can become very ill or even die from the flu. Although complications are more common among the very old and very young, getting a flu vaccine each year helps prevent contracting the virus and spreading it to others. This is especially dangerous for infants younger than age 6 months, who are at high risk for flu complications but too young to be vaccinated.
How Does the Flu Vaccine Work?
The flu vaccine triggers the body to develop antibodies that protect against three flu viruses: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. Because strains of this viruses vary and because the antibodies fade over time, it’s important to get vaccinated each flu season even if you had the shot the year before.
Are There Disadvantages to Having a Flu Shot?
Contrary to popular myth, you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. However, some people do develop side effects from the vaccine. These are usually mild and may include pain or swelling at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea, or muscle aches. Doctors agree that the advantages of having the vaccine far outweigh the disadvantages. While you still may get the flu after having a vaccine, you will have less severe symptoms if you’ve been vaccinated and still contract the virus.
When and Where Can I Get a Flu Shot?
Each year, the flu season begins around October and usually peaks in January. Getting a vaccine as soon as it is available in your community is recommended, since the antibodies take about two weeks to develop fully enough to protect you from the flu. Flu vaccines are available from your health care provider as well as at community locations and from some employers.
Is There Anyone Who Should Avoid the Flu Vaccine?
While the vaccine is safe for most people (including pregnant women), there are a few groups who should not be vaccinated, including anyone allergic to eggs or any of the ingredients of the vaccine and anyone who has had Guillain-Barre syndrome. When you get the flu shot, be alert for signs of a potential allergy. These include trouble breathing, hoarse voice or wheezing sound when breathing, facial swelling, hives, weakness, rapid heartbeat, or dizziness. If you experience any of these symptoms after having the flu vaccine, call 9-1-1 immediately.
In addition to getting a flu vaccine each year, practicing good hygiene and washing hands frequently can help protect you from getting sick.