This story has been updated for the 2021–2022 flu season.
Preparing for the flu can help you and your family avoid severe illness and complications from this common and highly contagious respiratory virus. According to the CDC, getting an annual flu shot is an easy, low-cost way to stay safe and reduce your risk of getting the flu.
Between 2010 and 2020, the flu led to 810,000 hospitalizations and caused up to 61,000 deaths every year in the United States. However, from 2020 to 2021, the number of flu cases in the United States steeply declined.
Between September 2020 and the end of January 2021, there were only 1,316 positive flu cases logged by the CDC, compared with nearly 130,000 during the same period from 2019 to 2020. Experts say that social distancing and face masks were the primary reasons for the decline in flu cases.
However, despite last year’s low number of flu cases, new strains of the flu come out every year, which is why it’s important to stay on top of yearly vaccinations. Keep reading to learn more about the flu and where you can go to get your annual flu shot in 2021.
What is the Flu?
The flu is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system. Symptoms of the flu are similar to the common cold but come on more suddenly. The flu is also more severe than the common cold, as it can lead to severe illness and complications, including pneumonia, bronchitis, and death.
The flu virus affects the lung, nose, and throat, and can be spread through saliva, skin-to-skin contact, exposure to a contaminated surface, or airborne respiratory droplets that are expelled into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
What Are the Symptoms of the Flu?
According to WebMD, flu symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks. Symptoms of the flu include:
- Sudden, excessive fatigue
- Body aches
- Sore throat
- A persistent cough
- Tightness of the chest
- Wheezing, runny nose, and congestion
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
When you catch the flu, your immune system creates antibodies to fight off the infection. Many people who get the flu can recover in under two weeks by drinking plenty of fluids and getting lots of rest. However, severe flu symptoms should be treated by your primary care doctor or at an urgent care center to reduce and prevent complications.
Use Solv to book a same-day appointment at an urgent care center or walk-in clinic if you suspect that you have the flu and need to get tested.
When Does the 2021-2022 Flu Season Start?
In the United States, flu season usually begins in October, peaks between December and February, and continues through May. Many people who get the flu are infected between late December and early March, which are typically the coldest months of the year in most parts of the United States. Cold temperatures combined with low humidity allow flu virus particles to remain in the air for a longer time, making it easier for the particles to spread from person to person.
Who Needs a Flu Shot?
An annual flu shot is recommended for everyone aged six months and older, especially those at high risk for experiencing severe illness and complications from the flu. People at high risk for flu complications include:
- Adults aged 65 years and older
- Children younger than two years old
- People with asthma
- Individuals with neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions
- Individuals with blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
- Individuals with chronic lung disease
- Individuals with endocrine disorders
- Individuals with heart disease
- Individuals with kidney diseases
- Individuals with liver disorders
- Individuals with metabolic disorders
- People who are obese with a body mass index of 40 or higher
- People younger than 19 years old on long-term aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications.
- People with a weakened immune system due to disease or medications
- People who have had a stroke
- Pregnant women and women up to 2 weeks after the end of pregnancy
- American Indians and Alaska Natives
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
According to CDC, children younger than six months and people with severe allergies to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients should not get the flu shot. Talk to your doctor to get a personalized recommendation if you are uncertain about whether you or someone in your family should get a flu shot.
When Should I Get a Flu Shot?
According to FDA, it takes roughly two weeks for the body to develop antibodies against the flu vaccine. Therefore, the CDC recommends you and your family members should get the flu shot at least two weeks before the flu starts spreading in your community, or by the end of October at the latest. Some children between the ages of six months and eight years may require two doses of the flu vaccine for optimal protection from the flu, each of which should be received at least four weeks apart.
Flu vaccines are usually available from September to mid-November, though some areas may offer the flu shot as early as August. Some providers may offer the flu shot past November, though it’s typically recommended to get the flu shot as early in the season as possible.
How Does the Flu Vaccine Work?
The flu vaccine works by stimulating your body’s immune system to create antibodies, which are large proteins that neutralize harmful bacteria and viruses. The antibodies developed as a reaction to the flu shot can help you fight off any viral infection that you’re exposed to during flu season.
This year, getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. A flu vaccine won’t protect you from COVID-19, but it can help prevent the burden of flu illnesses from overwhelming hospitals and the healthcare system.
How Effective Is the Flu Shot?
Evidence from the CDC shows that the flu shot is effective at preventing the flu and reducing the risk of severe illness and complications. The flu vaccine can reduce flu illness by 40% and 60% during flu season. However, certain factors may influence the effectiveness of the flu shot, including the age and health status of the person being vaccinated and the similarity between the flu strains circulating and the flu strains being vaccinated against.
How Long Does the Flu Shot Last?
The flu shot can help protect you and your family from the flu for the duration of the current year’s flu season. Getting a flu shot every year is important, as there are new and different flu strains that come into circulation every year. If you get the flu shot in September, the vaccine can protect you well until the end of flu season, which can last for up to 8 months according to the FDA.
How Much Does a Flu Shot Cost?
The flu shot is usually free for those who have health insurance plans. If you have health insurance, you can visit nearly any flu shot provider, including your primary care doctor, an urgent care center, pharmacy, or supermarket, to get a free flu shot. Workplaces, colleges, and universities may also offer flu shots free of charge to employees and students.
Without health insurance, GoodRx indicates a flu shot can cost anywhere between $0 and $50 based on the type of flu shot received, provider rates, and the provider’s geographical location. However, many flu shot providers offer special promotions, coupons, and discounts that can reduce the cost of the flu vaccine. Contact flu shot providers directly to learn more about their flu shot prices and any upcoming promotions you and your family can take advantage of.
Can the Flu Shot Help Prevent COVID-19?
According to the CDC and FDA, the flu shot cannot prevent you from getting COVID-19 or any of its variants, including the Delta variant. The flu and COVID-19 are two different viruses despite the number of symptoms they share. However, getting the flu shot may help your doctor rule out the flu in the event you become ill and start exhibiting symptoms similar to both the flu and COVID-19. Getting the flu shot can also help you avoid hospitalization and severe illness, which can free up room for those who need treatment for COVID-19.
Can I Have COVID-19 and the Flu at the Same Time?
Yes, according to the CDC it is possible to have COVID-19 and the flu at the same time, given these are two different illnesses. The best way to avoid severe illness and death from both COVID-19 and the flu is to get vaccinated for both viruses.
According to studies, the COVID-19 vaccine is effective at protecting you against severe disease and death from COVID-19 and its variants, including the Delta variant. The COVID-19 vaccine may not prevent you from getting COVID-19, but it can prevent you from experiencing severe symptoms. The flu vaccine works much the same way to protect you against the flu, but it is 40% to 60% effective at preventing you from getting any flu virus.
If you are experiencing symptoms of the flu and/or COVID-19, the CDC recommends that you get tested immediately to determine next steps. Flu testing and COVID-19 testing are available from a wide range of providers, including urgent care centers, pediatric urgent care centers, walk-in clinics, pharmacies, and supermarkets. Use Solv to locate flu test providers and COVID-19 test providers in your area, then book an appointment directly from the website.
Common Flu Shot Side Effects
The flu shot can produce side effects like any other medication or medical treatment. However, flu shot side effects are usually mild and rare and resolve on their own within a few days.
Let’s take a look at some of the possible symptoms and side effects of a flu shot, according to the FDA.
Common mild symptoms of a flu shot are:
In many cases, most of these symptoms will go away on their own within a few days. Rare flu shot side effects are:
If you experience any of the above rare symptoms, the CDC recommends that you seek medical attention immediately.
Many of the benefits associated with getting a flu shot far outweigh any potential risks. Benefits of getting the flu shot include:
- Reduced risk of getting the flu
- Reduced chance of being hospitalized with flu-related complications, especially for young children, the elderly, and people with diabetes or chronic lung conditions
- Less severe flu symptoms if you do get it
- Reduced risk of flu-related respiratory illness in pregnant women and their babies
- Lowered rates of cardiac problems for people with heart disease
Talk to your doctor if you still have questions or concerns related to the flu shot.
What You Need to Know About Flu Shots
Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) researches the types of influenza viruses that are most likely to spread, the strains that are making people ill, and how effective the previous year’s vaccines were at protecting against those virus strains. The WHO then gives their findings to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), which makes the final call on which flu vaccine viruses will be included in the next season’s flu shots.
Flu virus strains change every year. Therefore, this process is an essential part of developing safe and effective vaccines. Here’s what you need to know about the 2021-2022 flu shots.
Types of Flu Shots for the 2021-2022 Flu Season
According to the CDC, there are three types of flu viruses: types A, B, and C. Type A tends to be more serious and is likely to mutate into a new strain to which people haven’t yet developed resistance. Type B flu viruses are less severe than type A viruses but most often affect young children. Type C flu viruses cause illnesses similar to the common cold.
Every flu season, researchers find that usually one or two strains of Type A and Type B viruses are in circulation.
In response to the identified strains, two common vaccinations are available each year:
- Trivalent — This vaccine protects against three strains of the flu: two A strains and one B strain. The trivalent vaccines have traditionally been the most popular and affordable flu vaccine.
- Quadrivalent — This vaccine offers protection against four strains: two A strains and two B strains. For the 2021-2022 flu season, all regular-dose flu shots will be quadrivalent and protect from all four strains of the flu virus.
Your primary care doctor or flu shot provider can advise which type of flu shot will be best for you and your family members and answer any questions you have about the ingredients in the flu shot. Current flu vaccine options include:
- Standard dose flu shots.
- High-dose shots for people aged 65 years and older.
- Shots made with adjuvant for people aged 65 years and older.
- Shots made with viruses grown in cell culture. No eggs are involved in the production of this vaccine. This vaccine is ideal for people with severe egg allergies aged 18 years and older.
- Shots made using a vaccine production technology (recombinant vaccine) that do not require having a candidate vaccine virus (CVV) sample to produce.
- Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV)—a vaccine made with attenuated (weakened) live virus that is given by nasal spray.
Which Virus Strains Are in the 2021-2022 Flu Shots?
For the 2021-2022 flu season, the FDA has cleared the following strains for each flu shot 2021 vaccine:
Trivalent (three-component) vaccines:
- A/Victoria/2570/2019 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
- A/Cambodia/e0826360/2020 (H3N2)-like virus
- B/Washington/02/2019- like virus (B/Victoria lineage)
- A/Victoria/2570/2019 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
- A/Cambodia/e0826360/2020 (H3N2)-like virus
- A/Wisconsin/588/2019 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
- B/Washington/02/2019- like virus (B/Victoria lineage)
- B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage)
Where Should I Get a Flu Shot?
Flu shots are typically widely available during flu season, as they are offered by nearly all healthcare providers and in a variety of settings. Flu shots are available at:
- Urgent care clinics
- Pediatric urgent care centers
- Walk-in clinics
- Primary care doctors
- Grocery stores and supermarkets
- Retail stores
- Colleges and universities
- Community health centers
- Public libraries
You should also read up on where you can get a free flu shot!
Solv is an easy and convenient way to find flu shot providers in your area. Use Solv to find same-day test providers and book an appointment directly from the app or website. Getting a flu shot every year is the best way to protect you, your family, and your community members from the flu.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- Disease Burden of Influenza (2021)
- A sharp drop in flu cases during COVID-19 pandemic (2021)
- Key Facts About Influenza (Flu) (2019)
- The Flu Season (2021)
- Preventive Steps (2021)
- People at High Risk For Flu Complications (2021)
- 2021-22 Flu Season (2021)
- What are the benefits of flu vaccination? (2021)
- Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do the Flu Vaccines Work? (2021)
- Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines (2021)
- Flu Vaccine Safety Information (2019)
- Influenza Vaccine for the 2021-2022 Season (2021).
- Different Types of Flu Vaccines (2021)