Although most cases of the flu occur in January and February, flu season runs from October through May, so it’s smart to get vaccinated early.
“The benefits of getting a flu shot far outweigh the risks related to the vaccine,” said Cathy McIntire, RN, CNOR, director of Infection Prevention at Southeastern Med.
“The vaccine will keep you and your family from a lot of aggravation and prevent serious complications. Everyone has to choose if the vaccine is right for themselves or their children. Before you decide if the vaccine is right for you or your children, I caution people to read from expert resources and to not believe everything they read on the internet or hear at the supermarket about the flu vaccine.”
When to Get Vaccinated
The CDC recommends everyone get a seasonal flu vaccine at the beginning of the flu season, which can begin as early as October and last as late as May. Vaccination before December is best since this timing ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity is typically at its highest.
The vaccine is available primarily in two forms — an inactivated vaccine delivered as a shot injected with a needle and a live, weakened vaccine delivered as a nasal spray. The nasal spray is recommended only for healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49 who are not pregnant.
It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect and lasts for about one year. Since the flu shot changes each year, it is important to get vaccinated again every fall.
Who Should Get Vaccinated
Vaccine experts recommend everyone 6 months and older receive a flu vaccine each year. While everyone should get a flu vaccine, it is particularly important for people in risk groups or with close contact with people in risk groups. Risk groups are as followed:
- Pregnant women;
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old;
- People 50 years of age and older;
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions;
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; and
- People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including: health care workers, household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu; and household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age.
Who Should Not Be Vaccinated
Those who fall in one of the following should not get a flu vaccine without first consulting a physician. These include:
- People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs;
- People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination;
- Children younger than 6 months of age; and
- People who have an illness with a fever.
Vaccine Side Effects
Different side effects can be associated with the flu shot and nasal spray. Some minor side effects that could occur include:
- Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
- Low-grade fever
The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine are weakened and do not cause severe symptoms often associated with the influenza illness. Side effects from the nasal spray vaccine can include:
- Runny nose
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
Other Preventative Measures
Along with the flu vaccine, the following are a few preventative measures to take during the flu season to help limit the spread of influenza:
- Wash hands frequently throughout the day
- Cover the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
- Maintain distance from those infected with the flu
“It is extremely important to always be vigilant about hand washing and covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing,” McIntire said. “To keep your immune system healthy, get enough sleep, eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, exercise regularly, and drink at least eight glasses of water a day.”
Where to Get Vaccinated
For those interested in more information about the flu vaccine, please contact your family physician or local pharmacy.