Whether from your local pharmacist or from your primary care physician, you have probably been asked: “Did you get your flu shot?” If you have been holding off on getting yours, it is not too late to receive this year’s flu vaccination. The flu season varies year to year, but often peaks around January. Now is the perfect time to get vaccinated, but maybe you still have questions. Here are answers to some popular questions:
Question: Why should I get the flu vaccine?
Answer: Millions of Americans get the flu and hundreds die of the flu every year. The most vulnerable people are children, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems. When healthy people get the flu vaccine, they are making it less likely for those people who cannot receive the vaccine to get ill; this is called “her immunity.”
Question: Who should get the flu vaccine?
Answer: If you are older than 6 months and have a healthy immune system, you are eligible to get the vaccine. Those who are most likely to suffer complications of influenza – such as those with asthma and diabetes – could most benefit from the vaccination.
Question: How does the vaccine work?
Answer: In about two weeks after receiving the vaccination, the body produces antibodies to protect you from the virus strains the vaccine is designed to prevent. If you come across influenza viruses, your body recognizes the strains you are protected against and your body is able to fight the virus without you feeling sick.
Question: What kinds of vaccines are there?
Answer: Flu vaccines can be categorized as trivalent which protect against three types of influenza viruses (two influenza A and one influenza B) and quadrivalent which protect against four types of influenza viruses (two influenza A and two influenza B). While both the trivalent and quadrivalent flu vaccinations can be administered as an intramuscular injection (shot in a muscle), the quadrivalent is also available as a nasal spray for those 2 through 49 years of age.
Question: Does the flu shot give you the flu?
Answer: No, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. Flu shots are either made with “inactivated” (dead) flu viruses and so are not infectious, or with no flu virus at all. As with all intramuscular injections, patients can experience soreness, redness, and swelling where the shot was given. Because the flu vaccine is triggering an immune response to recognize the flu, some patients do experience mild, flu-like symptoms such as a low-grade fever, headache, and/or muscle aches.
Question: Last year’s flu shot did not work well. Will this year’s shot work better?
Answer: Every year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) predicts which strains (types) of flu are going to be the most prominent. Then, the CDC makes a recommendation to pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines based on this recommendation. Naturally, this varies year to year. The 2014 – 2015 vaccine was about 23% effective, according to researchers. However, one study found that the flu vaccine was 71% effective at preventing the flu in 2010 – 2011. In other words, some people who got the flu shot did get the flu, but only because they encountered strains of flu not protected for. Last year, the guess was 23% accurate and the guess a few years ago was 73% accurate.
So, should you get the flu vaccine? If you are not immunocompromised, yes! The flu vaccination will reduce your risk of catching the flu and will help protect those who cannot be vaccinated.
Figures from and answers adapted from the CDC