Give yourself a fair shot this flu season
September usually heralds the start of flu season, which can last through January or even later, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Getting the flu shot is one of the best ways to help protect your health and the health of your community. While you may have some questions (Do I have the flu or COVID-19? Is it safe to go into an office for the flu shot?), you’ll be better prepared to weather the storm this flu season with the right information.
The flu shot: your ounce of prevention
Each year brings a new wave of the flu. Because flu strains mutate and protective antibodies can decline over time, it’s important to get vaccinated each year, even if you were vaccinated the year before. This important step in prevention is not only associated with reducing instances of the flu; it can reduce the risk of hospitalization for adults, children, and seniors. It can also reduce flu-related deaths in children.
How does the flu vaccine work? Because the flu shot introduces a very small dose of seasonal flu strains, your body will develop antibodies against the virus, typically two weeks after you receive the shot. Each year, researchers work to home in on which three or four strains of the flu will be the most prevalent in order to increase efficacy. Although not 100% effective, the flu shot is linked with reducing illness severity – which is important for those who are at special risk for flu-related complications.
Those at most risk for flu complications include:
- People 65 or older
- Pregnant women
- Children under age 5 (and especially younger than 2)
- People with compromised immune systems due to certain illnesses or conditions
Where can I get a flu shot?
The CDC recommends getting the shot early in the season, such as September or October. But even getting the shot as late as January can provide benefits. Note that earlier is not necessarily better, as getting the shot in July or August might mean a reduction in efficacy near the end of the season.
Although you can get a flu shot without a doctor’s consultation, you may opt for a virtual consultation with your primary care physician (PCP) first rather than scheduling an in-person appointment. Your doctor can direct you to a covered provider and tell you where to get the flu shot – such as a doctor’s office, a health clinic, a pharmacy, or even your workplace. And for many health plans, including Blue Shield plans, you can get the shot at no additional cost.
Is it the flu? Or COVID-19?
Many symptoms overlap between the flu and COVID-19. These can include fever, cough, body aches, and fatigue. However, according to the CDC, COVID-19 is also distinguished by difficulty in breathing and a loss of taste or smell. This list is not comprehensive, so it is critical to reach out to your doctor first if you feel sick. He or she can make an appropriate diagnosis and help you get the care you need.
Vaccines are one of the best ways to prevent viral illness. While the flu shot does not protect against COVID-19, it does reduce the risk of sickness from flu and can help preserve healthcare resources needed for other conditions and illnesses, such as COVID-19. Vaccines that protect against infection from COVID-19 have been available for some time now. These vaccines do a great job at protecting against severe disease, hospitalization, and death from the virus.
Other CDC guidelines to prevent the flu mirror the ones used to reduce COVID-19 risk. These include physical distancing, washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, staying home if you feel sick, avoiding touching your hands, nose, and face, and practicing other healthy habits, such as keeping your home clean.
Is the flu shot safe?
With rare exceptions, such as allergies to flu shot ingredients or certain medical conditions, the flu shot is usually very safe for everyone 6 months or older. Again, it’s always important to discuss your medical conditions and concerns with your doctor before getting the shot.
There is also the chance that the flu shot will be ineffective against a specific flu strain. While researchers work to predict the more prevalent strains, they aren’t always accurate. And while we can’t control flu season, we can take precautions to help mitigate risk. The flu shot – along with the preventive measures listed above – are key ingredients in helping to protect you and the ones you love.
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