Flu Shots 101: What You Need to Know

Doctor giving young girl flu shot
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Anyone at risk for the flu should have a flu shot. For seasonal flu, this includes:

  • children ages 6 months to 18 years
  • adults over age 50
  • people living in a long-term care facility
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • people with frequent exposure to the general public (health care workers, emergency personnel, etc.)
  • pregnant women
  • anyone with a chronic medical condition
  • caregivers or family members in close contact with high-risk individuals

    The CDC now recommends flu vaccines for everyone over the age of 6 months old.

    Who Should NOT Get a Flu Shot?

    The flu vaccine is not right for everyone. You should not get a flu shot if you have:

    If you have an egg allergy, talk to your health care provider about whether or not the flu shot is right for you. Egg allergies used to be a reason to avoid flu shots, but recent research has indicated that even people with severe egg allergies may be able to safely get the flu vaccine under proper supervision. Do not get the vaccine at a walk-in clinic if you have an egg allergy; be sure to do so at your healthcare provider or allergist's office. There are even some flu vaccines available now that are not grown in eggs at all, so the threat of a reaction for people with egg allergies is removed completely.

    Availability

    Seasonal flu shots generally become available in the fall, between September and November. If you are at high risk for the flu, you should get your vaccine as soon as they are available.

    When You Should Get Vaccinated

    You should get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available if you are at high risk for the flu, although December and even later is not too late to get one.

    The vaccine takes two weeks to become effective after it is given.

    How Often Do I Need One?

    The seasonal flu vaccine is different every year because the formula is changed based on what experts believe are the strains most likely to cause illness the following season. Therefore, it is important to get a flu shot every year.

    Where to Find Flu Shots

    There are many options when you are trying to figure out where to find a flu shot. The best place to receive your flu shot is at your doctor's office if you have significant health issues. Your doctor should know your medical history and will know if there is any reason you should not have a flu vaccine. Flu shots may also be available at:

    Administration

    The flu vaccine is generally given as a shot in the upper arm or thigh (in children). It is also available as a nasal spray vaccine, but the inhaled form is not for use by children under 2 years old, adults over 49, people with weakened immune systems, or people with asthma.

    In 2016, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended that the nasal spray flu vaccine not be used during the 2016-2017 flu season. This decision was based on evidence that the nasal spray vaccine was far less effective at preventing the flu than the injected vaccine in recent years. The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics accepted this recommendation. Although it is still an approved vaccine (FDA approval and CDC recommendations are separate and independent from each other), it is unlikely to be available in most places

    Beginning in 2011, the Fluzone Intradermal Flu Vaccine is available and is administered using a much smaller needle than the traditional flu shot. There are many flu vaccine options now, but we can help you figure out which one is right for you and your family.

    Side Effects

    Most side effects are minor. Some of the more common side effects include:

    • low-grade fever
    • soreness at injection site
    • decreased energy

    If you experience any:

    • severe swelling
    • difficulty breathing
    • numbness

    Contact your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room, these are signs of allergy or serious complications and could be fatal.

    Sources:

    Bren, Linda. "Influenza: Vaccination Still the Best Protection." FDA Consumer Magazine. Sep2006. US Food and Drug Administration. 

    "Key Facts About Influenza(Flu) Vaccine." Influenza (Flu). 16OCT2006. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

    "Q&A: 2009 H1N1 Influenza Vaccine." H1N1 Flu 16 Oct 09. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

    Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, 2016–17 Influenza SeasonRecommendations and Reports / August 26, 2016 / 65(5);1–54. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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