What You Can Do If There is a Flu Vaccine Shortage

Flu Shots Here
Flu Shot shortages can make it hard to get vaccinated. Micah Young/E+/Getty Images

Flu vaccine shortages are not as common as they used to be, but they can and do still occur. So what do you do if the flu vaccine isn't available when flu season starts? 

What To Do If There Isn't Enough

Most of the time when there is a flu vaccine shortage, there is some available, but not enough to vaccinate everyone. The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months old get the flu vaccine, but when there are shortages, the recommendations may change.


Those at highest risk for complications from the flu need the vaccine more than otherwise healthy people, so they should have higher priority when there is a shortage. 

Some of those high risk groups include:

  • Children under age 5, especially those under age 2
  • Adults over the age of 65
  • Pregnant women
  • People with chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes 

Typically when there is a shortage, these people will have priority to get the vaccine. Once more vaccine is available, other groups of people will be able to get vaccinated. 

Protecting Yourself From the Flu Without the Vaccine

There's no doubt the flu vaccine offers the best protection we have against influenza. But if there is a shortage or none available at all, you may have to take other measures to protect yourself and your family. 

Taking every day precautions are even more important during flu season.

Washing your hands correctly - every time - is the number one way to prevent the spread of germs.

Most people fail to do this as often as they should and for as long as they should. If you could actually see the number of germs that you come into contact with on a daily basis, you would probably wash your hands much more frequently and effectively. 

Covering your cough is another important way to prevent the spread of germs.

Even if you don't have the flu (or you don't think you do), coughing can spread germs that may make other people sick up to 6 feet away! Cover your mouth when you cough of sneeze with your elbow instead of your hands. You are much less likely to spread germs that are on your sleeve or elbow than you are if they are all over your hands. 

Keeping your hands off of your face can drastically reduce the number of germs you introduce into your body. When you stop and pay attention to how often you touch your eyes, mouth and nose, you will likely be surprised. We touch our faces much more frequently than we realize. Making a conscious effort to break this habit can actually go a long way in helping you stay healthy. 

Eat healthy, exercise and get plenty of sleep. We hear this advice so often that most of us tune it out. It's easy to say but harder to do with our always on-the-go lives. Unfortunately, if you don't take the time to make sure your body is as healthy as it can be now, illness will catch up with you and force you to slow down to recover.


One More Option

If you are at high risk for complications for the flu and can't get the vaccine due to shortage or any other reason, you may be able to take an antiviral medication to help prevent the flu if you are exposed to it. In addition to shortening the duration of flu symptoms once you have it, Tamiflu can help prevent illness in some people if they take it before they get sick. These medications are available by prescription only, so talk to your health care provider if you are concerned about exposure to the flu and can't get the vaccine.


"Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Supply and Distribution in the United States". Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 19 Aug 14. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 31 Oct 15. 

"Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine". Seasonal Influenza (Flu) 2 Oct 15. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Department of Health and Human Services. 31 Oct 15. 

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