by Heather Lee, University of Arizona PharmD Candidate
With flu season upon us, make sure you pencil in a date to get your flu shot. You may wonder why this is so important, and why your healthcare providers are always asking whether you received it. Influenza (the flu) is a huge threat to public health. It has been shown that around 5 to 20 percent of the United States population get the flu during flu season.1 Hospitalization rates and death rates are quite high, with more than 200,000 people being hospitalized and around 36,000 deaths every year. Getting the flu vaccine not only lowers your risk of getting sick, but it also protects the people around you, too.2 With the risk of it turning into a serious and fatal threat, you should vaccinate against it to protect yourself and the ones you love.
What is the flu?
The flu is a disease that is caused by a virus. It is contagious, meaning it can be spread from person-to-person. It is spread when someone who has the flu sneezes, coughs, or talks and spread droplets. The droplets land on the noses or mouths of nearby people, or on surfaces that were near the sick person. If other people touch the surface and then touch their mouth, nose, or eyes, they can also get infected with the flu.2
Some common flu symptoms include:
- Fever and chills
- Sore throat
- Runny/stuffy nose
- Muscle/body aches
- Feeling tired2
More serious complications of flu include:
- Inflammation of the brain or heart
- Worsening of a health condition, such as asthma or heart failure
- Sepsis (a life-threatening infection)2
Who Needs It?
It is recommended that everyone who is able to get the vaccine who is 6 months of age or older should receive the vaccine every season.3 There are some people who are at high risk of developing flu complications, so it is important to receive the vaccine if you fall into the following categories:
- Children younger than 5 years, but especially children younger than 2 years
- Adults 65 years and older
- Pregnant women
- Women up to 2 weeks postpartum
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- American Indians and Alaska Natives
- If you have certain medical conditions (asthma, heart disease, chronic lung disease, etc).4
Children who are between 6 months to 8 years require 2 doses of the vaccine if they are getting vaccinated for the first time or if they have only gotten one dose.5 Receiving two doses will provide children with a better immune response and more protection.5 The two doses should be separated by at least 28 days. For adults, only one dose per season is necessary. Research has shown no benefit in boosting immunity in adults who have received two doses in the same flu season, even in elderly people who have weakened immune systems.6
*There are some groups who should not get the vaccines. These include children younger than 6 months, if you have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the flu vaccine or an ingredient it contains (eggs or gelatin), or if you have Guillain-Barrré Syndrome (an immune system disorder).2
Side Effects of Flu Shot
The most common side effects usually affect the area of injection, such as redness, pain, or swelling of where you received the shot.2 Other side effects are headaches, muscle aches, fever, or an upset stomach. These side effects usually go away in a few days. It is rare to get a serious side effect from the flu vaccine, but the person administering the vaccine can observe you for any serious side effects. The flu shot will not cause you to get the flu; it serves to boost your immune response to prevent the flu.
Sign Me Up
The benefits of getting the flu vaccines drastically outweigh the risks of the vaccine. Even though you may risk getting a sore arm or a headache, you still walk out with a lower chance of getting infected with the flu. Preventing the flu helps to keep you from developing the more serious complications, such as being in the hospital with pneumonia or even death. The best time to get vaccinated is usually the end of October, but you can still get vaccinated throughout the flu season.6
Receiving the flu shot in January or later is still better than nothing, since flu season can last as late as May. Your local pharmacy should have the flu vaccine available during flu season, and there is usually no appointment necessary. The next time you step into your local pharmacy, stop by and ask your pharmacist when you can get the flu vaccine so you can protect you and your loved ones.
- NIH Fact Sheets – Influenza. National Institutes of Health. https://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=133. Accessed November 28, 2018.
- S. Department of Health and Human Services. Flu (Influenza). Vaccines.gov. https://www.vaccines.gov/diseases/flu/index.html. Published October 11, 2006. Accessed November 28, 2018.
- Influenza (Flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/vaccination/vax-summary.htm. Published September 6, 2018. Accessed November 28, 2018.
- Influenza (Flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm. Published August 27, 2018. Accessed November 28, 2018.
- Influenza (Flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/children.htm. Published November 8, 2018. Accessed November 28, 2018.
- Influenza (Flu). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm. Published September 25, 2018. Accessed November 28, 2018.