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Flu Shot

Risks, Costs, Expectations and Why to Get One

Key Points

  • The article underscores the significance of flu shots in preventing seasonal influenza, a highly contagious viral infection with symptoms including fever, aches, sore throat, coughing, and fatigue.
  • Flu shots work by triggering the development of antibodies in the body that provide protection against different strains of influenza.
  • Certain populations, such as the elderly, young children, and pregnant individuals, are particularly encouraged to get the flu shot due to their higher risk of serious complications from the flu.
  • Flu shots are typically covered by insurance and can be obtained from various locations including doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and health departments.
  • The article concludes with a list of pertinent questions to ask your doctor about the flu shot.

What is a flu shot?

Without question, getting a flu shot is the easiest way you can protect yourself against getting seasonal influenza—the flu—this winter. Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory passages that will cause you to experience symptoms such as fever, aching, sore throat, coughing, and fatigue. Did you know that there are actually three types of influenza viruses you can contract? Types A and B cause the annual influenza epidemics that affect up to 20 percent of the population each year, while type C is milder and causes less severe flu symptoms.

You may have heard that flu shot vaccines are made from the viruses themselves. That’s true – they work by causing antibodies to develop in your body (about two weeks after vaccination) that help provide protection against influenza strains. Although flu shots are created from these viruses, it is important to note that the viruses are inactive, so you won’t actually contract the infection from the vaccine. In some cases, people who get a flu shot experience fever, muscle pain, and feelings of discomfort or weakness. These symptoms usually last for a period of one to two days and are much less severe than the actual flu.

Because new strains of the influenza virus develop each year, the flu vaccine is constantly changing, so it is important for you and your loved ones six months and older to get a flu shot annually as early as September, which is when the vaccines are typically made available. Flu season runs from October to May, with most cases peaking from late December to early March.

Top 5 Reasons Why You Need a Flu Shot

The flu shot is a preventative option to help avoid influenza (the flu). While the flu itself can usually get better on its own when people treat themselves at home, the flu can also be dangerous for certain populations, and in some cases, even deadly

The National Library of Medicine recommends the flu shot as the “best way to lower your chance of getting the flu and spreading it to others.” [1] Despite this, the flu shot isn’t mandatory for most individuals, though some people — like healthcare workers and those who work with children — may be required by their place of business to get the flu shot.

Even if you aren’t required to get the flu shot, there are many reasons why doing so is a good idea. These include the following:

1. The Flu Can Be Deadly

The flu can potentially become deadly, no matter how old or how healthy you are. Getting the shot can simply prevent the potential for experiencing the illness at all, which makes you much safer from possible complications associated with the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, several thousand people die of the flu every year. [3]

2. Flu Shots Protect Everyone from the Flu

The more people who get vaccinated against the flu, the less the virus will spread. This can actually help minimize the issue of the flu season each year, making it less likely that people will miss work or that children will miss school because of the virus. This makes up for quite a bit of lost productivity that is associated with the flu each year.

3. The Flu Can Be Dangerous for Certain Populations

Certain people, like people over 65, extremely young children, and pregnant individuals may experience serious complications if they get the flu. If you or someone you love falls under this category, it is important that you or they get the flu shot to protect against the flu. Consider getting the shot yourself even if you don’t fall into this category, so you can prevent giving the flu to someone who does.

4. Your Insurance Will Cover It

Flu shots are often covered by insurance. In fact, insurance plans purchased through the Affordable Care Act are required to cover the flu shot without a copayment. [4] Other programs may even offer a discount on the flu shot for those who aren’t insured. As such, it usually doesn’t cost very much — if anything — to get the flu shot.

5. Nobody Wants the Flu

The flu is no fun! If you remember having had the flu, you know how uncomfortable it feels, and how you don’t have the energy to do much of anything except lie in bed. Why go through such a miserable experience when it can be so easily prevented?

Understanding the Flu Shot

The flu shot works by creating antibodies in the individual who receives the shot. [3] The antibodies are created using the viruses that are present in the vaccine, and they can protect the individual against the possibility of flu-related infection. It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to begin working, which is why some people think the shot causes the flu. However, those who get the flu after receiving the shot simply didn’t have enough time between getting the shot and contracting the flu infection.

Risks of a Flu Shot

There aren’t many serious issues associated with getting a flu shot. However, there are a few major risks that can occur with this treatment, most of which are rare. [5] They can include:

  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which occurs in about one to two cases per one million vaccinations
  • A higher chance of seizures in young children when the flu shot and the pneumococcal vaccine or the DTaP vaccine are given together
  • A severe allergic reaction, which occurs in about one case per a million vaccinations

Certain people should not get the flu shot. These include:

  • People with allergies that can cause life-threatening side effects, especially those who have an egg allergy, as the vaccine “contains a small amount of egg protein” [5]
  • People who have or have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome
  • People who already have a cold or mild illness, as it’s better to get the flu shot when you are feeling relatively healthy

What to Expect With a Flu Shot

Usually, getting a flu shot is not a terribly uncomfortable or complicated procedure. However, a few side effects may occur, such as: [6]

In general, getting the flu vaccine is easy, quick, and relatively pain-free.

How Long Does a Flu Shot Last?

Normally, those who get the vaccination and have healthy immune systems will be protected for the entirety of the flu season [7]. In some cases, older adults may not be protected for this entire time because their bodies may not create the same amount of antibodies that a young person's will. However, those who stay on top of getting their yearly flu shots will usually be protected for the duration of the flu season each year.

Where can I get a flu shot?

Flu shots are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and health departments. If you’re not sure where to get vaccinated, one of the most convenient places you can go to is your local urgent care center. These facilities don’t require appointments and typically have extended hours that will allow you to get your flu shot when it’s most convenient for you.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor About the Flu Shot

  • When is the best time for me to get the flu vaccine?
  • Which version of the flu shot is it best to get this year?
  • What are the signs of a serious problem with the flu shot for which I should seek medical treatment?
  • Are there any signs or symptoms for which I should return to your office for further treatment after getting my flu shot?
  • If not at your office, where can I get a flu shot?

The Flu Shot May Also be Known as

  • Flu vaccine
  • Influenza shot or vaccine
  • Flublok
  • Fluad
  • Fluarix
  • Afluria
  • FluMist
  • FluLaval
  • Flucelvax
  • Fluvirin
  • Fluzone
  • Fluzone High-Dose
  • Fluzone Intradermal
  • IIV3
  • IIV4
  • RIV3
  • RIV4
  • ccIV4
  • LAIV4

Frequently asked questions

  • Why is it important to get a flu shot?

    Getting a flu shot is crucial as it acts as a preventative measure against seasonal influenza, a highly infectious viral infection that can cause a range of symptoms from fever to fatigue.
  • How does a flu shot work?

    A flu shot works by causing the body to develop antibodies. These antibodies then provide protection against different strains of influenza.
  • Who should especially consider getting a flu shot?

    The flu shot is particularly important for certain populations, such as the elderly, young children, and pregnant individuals. These groups are at a higher risk of experiencing serious complications if they contract the flu.
  • Is the flu shot covered by insurance?

    Yes, flu shots are often covered by insurance.
  • Where can I get a flu shot?

    Flu shots are available at many locations, including doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and health departments.
  • What questions should I ask my doctor about the flu shot?

    The article suggests asking your doctor about the effectiveness of the flu shot, potential side effects, and the best time to get vaccinated.
  • What are the symptoms of influenza?

    Influenza symptoms can include fever, aching, sore throat, coughing, and fatigue.
  • How contagious is influenza?

    Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection that can spread easily from person to person.

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