Should I get a flu shot this year?

Answered by Rebecca Farley | Reviewed by a licensed U.S. pharmacist | Posted December 23, 2019
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The answer is always yes: You should get a flu shot. Flu shots are essential not only to your health, but to the health of the greater public. The CDC recommends everyone over the age of six months get a flu shot, especially those who are high risk of infection.

High risk individuals include:

     Children under the age of 10
     People above the age of 65
     Anyone with a condition that weakens their immune system

This includes those who are pregnant, those with HIV/AIDS, those with diabetes, those with cancer, and children with neurological disorders. Essentially, if you are on the margins of the healthy spectrum, a flu shot is absolutely imperative.

This recommendation is still relatively new. In 2010, the CDC voted to expand recommendations to every person above six months of age. Previously, the mandate had been that every person between six months and eighteen years should get a vaccine. Flu shots are also necessary for the health of those around you. The term “herd immunity,” coined by William Whiteman Carlton Topley and G.S. Wilson in 1923, refers to a community being effectively immune to a disease via widespread vaccinations. If the herd is immune, then the most vulnerable will not even come into contact with the disease. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, herd immunity provides what is called “transmission termination.” If you are immune to the flu, then your contact with influenza will end the transmission cycle. So, for example, if you come into contact with an infected individual on a plane ride home for the holidays, you will not bring the illness home with you. Transmission termination stops the illness from running rampant within communities. So, even if you are not particularly vulnerable, you need to be immunized.

What is a flu shot?

A flu shot is either an isolated, inactive flu virus or a solution made to resemble the flu virus that is then injected into a patient’s arm muscle. Two weeks after the shot is administered, the body will develop antibodies that prevent infection of an active flu virus.

The most common flu shots available, per the CDC, prevent four different types of flu, two of them influenza A, and two of them influenza B.  Influenzas A and B are the two types of seasonal flu that are the greatest threat to the general public each year.

They are similar in structure and have similar symptoms, but type B can only infect humans and certain mammals, while A infects birds as well. (Because it infects birds, influenza A spreads much more easily.)

Will a flu shot make me sick?

A flu shot will not give you the flu. Possible side effects include soreness and redness at the injection site; you could also get a low-grade fever, nausea, and/or aches. These symptoms should all be relatively manageable and go away after a few days.

Who can’t get a flu vaccine?

Children under six months and those who have an allergy to anything in the vaccine should not get the vaccine.

NOTE: Allergic to eggs? Oddly enough, the vaccine can be manufactured using hen’s eggs, which means that people with life-threatening egg allergies must consult a doctor before getting it.

In addition, people suffering from Guillain-Barré syndrome, an auto-immune disorder that causes nerve damage, should not get the vaccine.

Does the flu vaccine always work?

No. You may get a flu shot and still get the flu. You may contract the disease before you get the shot – which is why it is important to get the shot as soon as it is available – or you may contract a version of the flu that is not included in the seasonal flu shot. Nevertheless, you should still get a flu shot.

Why does the flu shot formula get updated every year?

The flu virus is rapidly evolving, so the vaccine needs to be updated each year to ensure it actually prevents the flu. Plus, your own immune system needs the boost each year to maintain the flu antibodies it grew the previous year. Sadly, there is no once-and-for-all flu shot.

Will my health insurance pay for a flu shot?

Most health plans do cover flu shots. And I have good news for you: Even if you don’t have health insurance, you will be able to get the shot for a relatively low cost. Walgreens carries flu shots for around $40 a pop, although a local Walgreens in New Orleans, Louisiana said the listed price for a flu shot is $49.99 - roughly $55 with tax. Your local Costco administers the vaccine for $20 – and you don’t need to be a Costco member to purchase them.

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Updated September 09, 2020

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