Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is an illness that can affect people at any age and from any walk of life. If untreated, influenza can lead to very serious complications, including hospitalization or even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 49,000 Americans die each year from flu-related complications. That’s why it is so important to protect yourself, now that flu season is upon us, by receiving an influenza vaccine.
Who needs to get a flu vaccine?
The CDC recommends that everyone who is six months of age and older should receive a flu vaccine. It is especially important for pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with certain chronic illnesses to receive their annual vaccine to avoid serious complications from getting influenza.
Why do I need to get a flu shot every year?
The influenza virus is constantly changing. Changes to the virus may happen slowly over time, or more rarely, there may be a significant abrupt change. Because of these changes, your immunity from having the flu or getting a flu vaccine in the past may not protect you for the next year. By getting a vaccine each year, you are giving your body the help it needs to protect itself. It takes your body about two weeks to build up full immunity against the flu virus after receiving your vaccine, so it is important to receive your vaccine before you can become exposed to the flu.
Can I get the flu from receiving the vaccine?
No, receiving the vaccine will not give you the flu. Some people do have minor reactions for a couple of days after receiving these vaccines, but they are not symptoms of the flu. However, you may still get influenza even if you have received the vaccine, but most likely it will be milder or of shorter duration.
I’ve heard about new types of flu vaccine. Which one is best for me?
Yes, the flu vaccine used to be a “one size fits all” shot. However, in recent years, several new vaccine products have been developed to improve the ease of administration or to better protect certain individuals from the flu. Here’s a summary of new products and who may benefit from receiving these vaccines.
- Nasal spray: The nasal spray form of the vaccine is made from “live attenuated” viruses. This means it uses a weakened form of the live virus that will not cause you to be infected with the flu when sprayed into your nose. Occasionally, you may have some mild side effects such a stuffy nose or sore throat for a day or so after receiving this vaccine. This product may be given to anyone from two to 49 years of age if they don’t have any of the warnings or precautions for use of this vaccine. And the nasal spray vaccine is recommended as the best option for healthy children two to eight years of age who don’t have any of the restrictions for use.
- Injection: Two types of flu shots are now available—trivalent or quadrivalent. Trivalent vaccines protect against three strains of the influenza virus while the newer quadrivalent vaccines protect against four strains of the influenza virus. Trivalent vaccines and one quadrivalent product are recommended for anyone six months of age and older, while other quadrivalent vaccines are approved for use in people three years of age and older.
- Intradermal: Although most flu vaccine injections are given into the arm muscle, this type of flu shot may be given intradermally (into the skin) using a smaller needle. This may be given to adults 18 to 64 years of age who have concerns about getting an injection with the larger needle usually used for giving the flu shot.
- High-dose: The high-dose flu vaccine has four times the amount of each strain of the inactivated flu virus as the regular dosage and may be given to certain adults 65 years of age and older to improve immunity to the flu. However, some side effects are reported more frequently with this product compared to the regular flu vaccine. If you are over 65 years of age, ask your doctor or pharmacist if you should receive a high-dose flu vaccine.
- Recombinant: This type of flu vaccine has a different manufacturing process than is used to make other flu vaccines. Therefore, this type of flu vaccine may be used in people between 18 and 49 years of age who have an allergy to eggs or other ingredients used in the manufacturing process. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are allergic to eggs or have had a reaction to a previous flu vaccine to see if this is the best option for you.
When should I get my flu vaccine?
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Because it takes about two weeks for protection to develop after vaccination, you should plan to get vaccinated before the flu season begins, usually by October. However, you can get vaccinated against the flu anytime during the current flu season. Getting the vaccine protects you from the flu virus usually for several months up to a year. If you have questions about which vaccine is best for you, be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist. The most important step you can take to help you avoid the flu this year is to receive a flu vaccine!
By Mallory Snyder, Pharm.D., MPH, PGY1 Health-System Administration Resident, University of Minnesota Medical Center—Fairview, Minneapolis