In early September, while picking up a prescription refill at my local pharmacy, I noticed signs all over the store that flu shots were available and could be given without an appointment. Although the weather was still hot outside and flu season seemed many months away, I decided to get my vaccination then, avoiding a trip to my doctor’s office to get the shot. From filling out a short 2-page questionnaire to receiving the shot took about 10 minutes.
Despite the relative ease it is to get a flu shot nowadays, many people decline to get one. Many friends of mine feel this way. They tend to question why they would need to get one and some even say in years past, they got the vaccination but still got the flu, so what’s the point? Others point that the vaccine contains the flu virus and (mistakenly) believe it could make them even more susceptible to catching the flu as a result.
Getting a flu shot is one of the most important things you can do to greatly reduce the chances of catching the virus when colder temperatures return and flu season begins — both of which are just around the corner. The flu vaccine is completely safe and should be given to nearly everyone. Not getting one can leave you susceptible to the flu’s nasty symptoms of fever, cold, cough and aches that can leave you at home in bed for days missing work. In certain populations, such as young children, pregnant women and the elderly, the flu can even be deadly.
At MedShadow, we like to present the side effects, as well as the risks and benefits, associated with medications. When it comes to the flu vaccine, there are hardly any risks but loads of benefits in terms of keeping you – and your family members – flu free this season. The benefits of the flu vaccine are well documented, as I will talk about below. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older get one.
I have been getting a flu shot annually for the last 10+ years, and have never gotten the flu during that time. Also, most insurance plans cover the flu vaccine in full, so getting immunized won’t cost you a penny.
If you still have concerns about getting a flu shot this season, here are some common questions and answers that should make the decision to get one a lot easier.
Why should I get one?
Getting a flu shot can significantly reduce your chances of getting the flu. It does not completely protect you against getting sick. The CDC says those who get a flu shot are between 40% and 60% less likely to come down with the flu compared to those who don’t receive the vaccination. A person’s individual health and how well the vaccine is matched to actual strains of the flu virus that are experienced during flu season impact how effective the vaccine is for that season. And even if you get the shot and still manage to catch the flu, symptoms tend to be milder compared to those who are not vaccinated.
Certain groups of people, such as those with asthma, diabetes, obesity, kidney and liver disorders, heart disease and a weakened immune system, as well as young children, pregnant women and the elderly are more likely to suffer complications if they get the flu. For those in any of these groups, getting a flu shot is even more important.
For the 2016-17 flu season, just 43% of adults and 59% of children received a flu shot, according to CDC data. Federal health officials say they would like to see the rate increase to 70% overall. Getting a flu shot not only increases your chances of not getting the virus, but also decreases the likelihood you would spread the virus to others as a result. And the more people vaccinated, the less likely it is for the virus to spread.
Does it matter which kind of flu shot I get?
It does. You should get a flu shot via injection. Although there is a version of the vaccine available through a nasal spray, the CDC does not recommend it due to questions about the vaccine’s efficacy when it is given this way.
If you are afraid of or not fond of needles, the good news is that there is a small needle formulation of the vaccine that is injected into the skin rather than the muscle in the upper arm. There’s also a version that is needle-free. This one uses a high-pressure stream of liquid to deliver the vaccine into the body.
Flu shots are known as trivalent or quadrivalent. The former protects against 3 flu strains, while the latter protects against 4 strains. If possible, you should ask if you can get a quadrivalent vaccine so you are protected against more flu strains.
When should I get vaccinated?
The sooner the better. The CDC suggests getting the vaccine before the flu season begins, so by the end of October. However, even if you wait until, say, January to get inoculated, it should still benefit you. Keep in mind, though, that the vaccine does not immediately protect you against the flu. It takes about 2 weeks for the body to develop antibodies against the flu virus that protect you from getting sick.
Isn’t there a chance I can get the flu from the vaccine?
Absolutely not. The vaccine does not contain any live virus, so it is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine itself. Some people may experience pain in the upper arm after receiving the vaccine, but this is a common side effect from the vaccine and not an indication someone has gotten the flu from the shot. Some people may also develop a slight fever after receiving the shot, but this too is a reaction to the vaccine. The pain and the fever should both disappear within a matter of days after the injection.
While the nasal spray version does contain a live virus, it has been weakened so it poses no threat to the patient. However, as just mentioned, the nasal spray is considered less effective than the injectable versions of the vaccine.
Are there side effects from getting a flu vaccine?
There are a handful, but they tend to be minor and are much less severe than the symptoms of the flu itself. For vaccines given via injection, the possible side effects include soreness or redness at the injection site, a low-grade fever and aches. For the nasal spray version, in adults, side effects can include a runny nose, headache, sore throat and cough. In children, the nasal spray can cause a runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches and fever.
Is the flu vaccine safe for pregnant women?
Yes and pregnant women should absolutely get a flu shot. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all women receive a flu vaccine, and pregnant women especially since they are “at an increased risk of serious illness and mortality due to influenza.” ACOG’s recommendation applies to all pregnancies, regardless of trimester.