Flu season is just around the corner. Like many other milestones this year, it might look a little different than it has in the past due to COVID-19.
One thing hasn’t changed: You should get a flu shot this year. It’s still your best protection against the flu viruses that will be in circulation in our communities during the fall and winter. And with the virus that causes COVID-19 now in the mix, getting your flu vaccine is more important than ever.
Who needs a flu shot?
Everyone who is 6 months or older should get a flu shot this year.
This is especially important for those at the greatest risk of developing severe symptoms. This high-risk group includes pregnant women, older adults and young children.
If you have a condition like asthma, cancer, COPD, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, kidney or liver disease or obesity, you’re also more likely to experience complications from the flu and should make it a priority to get your flu shot.
If you have concerns about whether or not the flu shot is for you, talk to your provider. For example, some people with egg allergies or a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome should consult a provider before getting a flu vaccine. If you have a severe or life-threatening allergy to the vaccine or its contents (which might include gelatin, antibiotics or others), it may not be safe for you to get a vaccine.
Know your flu vaccine options
The flu vaccine is available in two delivery methods: an injection and a nasal spray. The nasal spray isn’t suitable for the following groups of people:
- Adults older than 50 years old
- Children and teens who are taking aspirin or medication containing a salicylate
- Children who have had asthma or wheezing in the last year
- Children younger than 2 years old
- Individuals with weakened immune systems
- Pregnant women
Individuals who are allergic to eggs should speak with their primary care provider before getting a flu shot. The vaccine typically contains egg protein, but that doesn’t mean you should skip the shot. Your provider can explain the options and recommend a plan for vaccination.
Understanding how the flu vaccine works
The flu vaccine, and most any vaccine, contains the germs of the illness the shot protects you against. When the vaccine is introduced into your system, it makes your body produce special proteins that tell your immune system to attack the virus. These antibodies are what it would make if you were naturally exposed to the illness. The flu vaccine shouldn’t make you sick though because these germs have either been made much weaker or killed.
For most people, a single flu shot provides enough protection for the current flu season. However, this protection naturally decreases over time.
The vaccine also changes each year depending on which flu viruses that researchers think will be circulating. Flu viruses adapt rapidly, and the vaccine you received last year may not provide the protection you need against current viruses. This is why you should plan to receive a vaccination each year.
Time your flu shot carefully
It takes about two weeks for your body to develop the antibodies it needs to protect you from the flu, so you should get vaccinated before the virus starts spreading widely in your community. If you get the shot too early, you might not have enough protection to last through the end of flu season. But, wait too long, and you risk infection.
The best time to get your flu shot is before the end of October.
However, that doesn’t mean you should skip the vaccine if you wait longer. Some flu seasons can last into May.
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.