Getting a flu vaccine helps lower your risk of getting the flu. And this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, getting your flu vaccine will be more important than ever.
But you may have questions about how safe and effective it is, how it works and where you can get one. Read on to find out 10 important facts about the flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine is available as a flu shot or nasal spray.
Several types of flu vaccines come out each year. They work for people of different ages and with health conditions. Your primary care provider will know which one is best for you. In general, most people ages 6 months and older can get a flu shot. Most people up to age 49 who aren’t pregnant can get the nasal spray flu vaccine.
A flu vaccine won’t give you the flu.
Flu shots are made with either dead flu viruses or proteins from flu viruses that are very weak. Neither can give you the flu. Nasal spray flu vaccines are made with a weakened flu virus that’s cold-adapted. The spray goes in your nose, which is a warm environment. So, it can’t cause the flu. Some people get mild side effects from a flu shot, but these aren’t as strong as the symptoms when you have the flu.
The vaccine protects against different strains.
Two types of flu viruses cause seasonal flu epidemics: human influenza A and B viruses. Flu vaccines are made each year to protect against the flu viruses that research predicts will be most common that season.
Most flu vaccines protect you from four influenza viruses:
- Influenza A (H1N1) virus
- Influenza A (H3N2) virus
- Two types of influenza B viruses
These are the viruses that most commonly cause an outbreak of the flu each season. Some flu vaccines protect people from the three influenza viruses — the two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus. These can be better for people age 65 and older because of their different immune systems.
There are some people who should consult their provider before getting a flu vaccine.
Everyone ages 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year. However, people with severe allergies to the vaccine ingredients should talk to their primary care provider before getting a flu shot.
October is the best time to get a flu vaccine.
The best way to get the most protection from the flu vaccine is to get it before flu season starts, but not too early. Flu season is usually in the fall and winter months, peaking from December through February. The best time to get a flu vaccine is in the fall, by the end of October.
A flu vaccine takes about two weeks to work.
A flu vaccine tells your body to start making proteins to fight flu viruses. It takes about two weeks to develop enough of these proteins to protect you from the flu. That’s why it’s best to get a vaccine before flu season when a lot of people in your community are likely to have the flu. You can always get a flu vaccine during flu season if you didn’t get one earlier. But, just remember it won’t start working right away.
Getting a flu shot can help reduce the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When more people get a flu shot, fewer people overall get the flu in their communities. That means fewer people will need health care services and hospital care that’s desperately needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the flu shot will not prevent COVID-19, it can help keep our communities healthier overall.
Flu vaccination makes symptoms less severe if you do get the flu.
The flu vaccine lowers your chances of getting the flu by 40% to 60%, so it’s possible to get the flu even if you’ve been vaccinated. However, symptoms are often less severe for people who get a flu vaccine but end up getting the flu.
Flu vaccines can save children’s lives.
A 2014 study showed that the number of children hospitalized due to the flu dropped by 74% because they got flu vaccines. A 2017 study showed that getting the flu vaccine can greatly reduce a child’s risk of dying from the flu.
Flu vaccines protect pregnant women and their babies.
It’s safe for most pregnant women to get a flu vaccine. Babies born to moms who had a flu vaccine during pregnancy can be protected from the flu for several months after birth. You can always talk to your provider if you’re pregnant and have any questions about the flu vaccine.
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, which may include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat or body aches, you should call your primary care provider’s office. You may be encouraged to complete a virtual visit.