The influenza (flu) vaccine is one of the most important measures you can take to protect your health. Flu vaccines are safe and provide protection against the various strains of influenza. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the flu vaccine for anyone over age 6 months who has not experienced an allergic reaction to a past flu vaccine. Remember, the vaccines against COVID-19 don‘t protect you from the flu.
You are most at risk of flu between October and May, but you can get the flu any time of the year.
How dangerous is the flu?
The flu can cause a variety of symptoms in people, including a sore throat, cough, runny nose, headache, fever, and general listlessness or fatigue. It can also worsen certain preexisting conditions in people, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer — and it can weaken your system’s health enough to make it vulnerable to conditions such as bacterial pneumonia or bronchitis.
The CDC says that in a typical year, thousands of people die of the flu. Infants, young children, people with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and people over 65 are at highest risk, but flu deaths can occur in almost every age group. Getting your flu vaccine could mean more than just preventing the flu in you. It could help save your life — and perhaps even the life of someone around you.
Facts about vaccines
- Most people only need one dose of the flu vaccine per year. The exception is children 6 months through 8 years of age, who might need two doses.
- It takes approximately two weeks after the flu vaccine is given for it to become effective.
- Some people have mild reactions to the flu vaccine, including headaches and fatigue, but any symptoms usually disappear after one or two days.
- Rarely, people have more-serious reactions to the flu vaccines. Talk to your health care provider if you or your child has had a serious reaction in the past to a flu vaccine or has ever had Guillain-Barré syndrome (also called “GBS”). Both of these increase the chances that you or your child may have a reaction to the current flu vaccine.
- It’s very important that pregnant women get the flu vaccine. It will not harm the fetus. In fact, it will help protect the baby from flu in the first few months after birth.
Common misconceptions about the flu vaccine
- An injected flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. A few people experience muscle aches and fever for a day or two after receiving a flu shot. This is not the flu — it is a sign that your body is working to produce protective antibodies. Vaccines are held to the highest standards of safety and, aside from minor side effects for some patients, they are generally very safe.
- A flu vaccine can protect you against getting the flu, but that protection is not 100%. You may still get the flu after getting the vaccine, but it typically lessens the severity of the illness.
- There is not a single study that has shown that the flu vaccine, or any other vaccine, causes autism. There is absolutely no connection between autism and vaccines in children.
- The COVID-19 vaccine does not protect you against the flu. Conversely, the flu vaccine will not protect you against COVID-19. They are two separate viral illnesses requiring two separate vaccines. However, flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time.
Special information for people over 65
If you are over 65, your doctor may recommend a stronger flu vaccine than is generally given to younger adults. Several flu vaccine formulations are approved for use in people 65 and older, including two “enhanced” flu vaccines. These include the high-dose flu vaccine and the adjuvanted flu vaccine, both of which are designed to create a stronger immune response. Talk to your doctor about whether a stronger flu vaccine is right for you.