Last year was a “high severity” flu season that saw record numbers of people hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And this year’s flu season started earlier than usual, with Florida reporting the first death from influenza in early October. Depending on the year, between 5 and 20 percent of all Americans will get the flu, hundreds of thousands of people will be hospitalized, and tens of thousands will die.
Luckily, this particular health challenge is something you can do something about. It’s a simple shot that protects you from the strains of influenza that public health experts have determined are most likely to be circulating this year.
If you’re hesitating, it may be that you have questions or have heard out-of-date information. Here are the key facts about the flu vaccine from the CDC, and here is a guide to getting a flu shot from Kaiser Permanente.
Why Do I Need to Get Vaccinated Every Year?
Every year, scientists develop a new influenza vaccine based on the rapidly adapting virus strains most likely to infect you. Because flu viruses change so quickly, last year’s vaccine may not protect you from this year’s illnesses.
The vaccine triggers your immune system to produce antibodies that protect you from the vaccine viruses, but these antibody levels start to decline over time. This is another reason to get a flu shot every year.
Who Needs a Flu Vaccine?
Everyone except babies – the flu shot is recommended for everyone age 6 months or older. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of influenza complications, including:
• Pregnant women
• Older adults
• Young children
Children between 6 months and 8 years may need two doses of the flu vaccine, given at least four weeks apart, to be fully protected. Check with your child’s health care provider. There is a high-dose flu vaccine available for seniors.
Certain health problems raise your risk of complications for the flu, so be sure to get vaccinated if you have one of the following conditions:
• Cancer or cancer treatment
• Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
• Cystic fibrosis
• Kidney or liver disease
Isn’t the Flu Shot Risky for Some People?
A small percentage of people have adverse reactions to particular components in the flu shot. The primary one is an allergy to eggs, since most types of flu vaccines contain a small amount of egg protein. However, there is an egg-free vaccine available – ask your doctor if this is appropriate for you. The flu vaccine also isn’t recommended if you’ve previously had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine. This is something to discuss with your doctor, since some reactions people attribute to the vaccine have other causes.
When is the Flu Vaccine Available?
Flu shots are already available at your doctor’s office, other medical centers, pharmacies, and community centers. The flu shot will continue to be available throughout the fall and winter or until supplies are no longer available.
Where Can I Get a Flu Shot?
If you have an appointment scheduled for another health issue, ask your doctor to give you a flu shot at the same time; this is the simplest choice as it doesn’t involve a separate appointment. Or find out if your doctor is offering drop-in shots.
If you’re a member of Kaiser Permanente, take advantage of the free flu shot clinics offered at each Kaiser Permanente Medical Center. You can also call the Flu hotline at 1-800-573-5811 to get more information.
Many companies and businesses offer free flu shots to employees, and some extend the benefit to family members. Chain stores such as Costco, Walgreens, CVS and Walmart regularly offer low-cost flu shots and frequently have free flu shot clinics. Watch out for promotions; right now Target stores that contain CVS pharmacies are offering $5 gift certificates along with free flu shots. Public health clinics and Veterans medical centers offer free or very low-cost flu shots based on income.