You see the signs at your pharmacy, doctor's office, maybe even at work: "Get Your Flu Shot." But do you really need one?
Yes, you do. The CDC says that everyone over 6 months old should get a flu vaccine -- even if you’ve never had the flu.
It’s really important to get a flu shot especially if you:
- Have asthma
- Have diabetes
- Have heart or lung disease
- Are pregnant
- Are 65 or older
- Live with or take care of someone at high risk
- Are younger than 5, but especially younger than 2 years of age.
- Have a depressed immune system, HIV, or cancer
The flu can hit these people hard. It can turn into pneumonia or cause other medical problems.
Why Get Vaccinated?
Even if you're super healthy, your co-workers, friends, or family may not be. Getting vaccinated protects you and them from catching and spreading the flu.
What's in the Flu Vaccine?
Most flu vaccines are made of inactivated flu viruses. You can’t catch the flu from them.
When you get a vaccine, your body learns what the flu looks like so it can fight the illness. It takes about 2 weeks for your body to be ready to fight.
So how can you get a vaccine and still get the flu? Each year, scientists find the three or four types of flu that they think will be the most widespread and dangerous next year. Those dead viruses are put in flu vaccines. So while the flu vaccine can protect you from what scientists think will be the worst and most common flu types, it doesn’t protect you from all of them.
When Should You Get Vaccinated?
Flu season generally runs from October through May. Get the flu vaccine as soon as you can to protect yourself.
You don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving. The earlier you get a vaccine, the sooner you're protected. Also, know that it’s never too late in the season to get a vaccine.
Which Vaccine Is Right for You?
- Regular flu shot. This is the shot most people are familiar with. You get the shot in the upper arm or shoulder. You can get it even if you have a long-lasting medical condition like diabetes. There’s also a version of this shot that creates a stronger immune response, thanks to an “adjuvant” ingredient. And there are flu vaccines that aren’t made in eggs, if you need that.
- High-dose flu shot. If you're 65 or older, this option is for you. Older people have a harder time fighting off the flu. This vaccine gives you a larger dose for stronger protection.
- Nasal-spray flu vaccine. Experts don’t recommend using these this flu season due to concerns about its effectiveness.
Where Can You Get the Flu Vaccine?
- Doctor's offices
- Health departments
- College health centers
- Some workplaces
The CDC has an online vaccine finder that can show you the nearest location.
What if You Get the Flu?
If you start feeling sick and are older than 65, are pregnant, have conditions like asthma or diabetes, or have a child younger than 5 who is sick, call your doctor right away. Ask about antiviral medicines. They can shorten the flu by 1 or 2 days and prevent serious problems like pneumonia. But it’s best if you take them as soon as you have symptoms like fever, sneezing, body aches, stuffiness, or coughing.
If you aren't likely to have medical problems, you probably don't need this type of medicine.
There are three FDA-approved antiviral medications for flu. You should talk to your doctor, especially if you’ve had symptoms for less than 2 days:
Oseltamivir (Tamiflu). People age 2 weeks and older can take this. It comes in pill form for adults and teens over age 13. It also comes in liquid form.
Peramivir (Rapivab). Taken in one intravenous dose, this drug is approved for use in people aged 18 and older.
Zanamivir (Relenza). People age 7 and older can take this. You inhale this medicine, so people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) shouldn't take it.