Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization closely monitor the flu patterns in the general population to develop the most effective flu vaccine possible. And, each year, I take time to remind my patients just how important it is to get vaccinated. Did you know the flu vaccine kept 5.3 million people from getting the flu during the 2016-2017 season?
This year, we’re making sure people in Minnesota and Wisconsin know that flu shots are important for pregnant women. And, we’re working to remind people how flu shots work.
Here are my answers to 5 questions I know people will be asking this 2018-2019 flu season:
1. Why should you get a flu shot?
The flu vaccine protects you and those around you from around half of all flu viruses. The CDC does an incredible amount of testing, resulting in 40% to 60% effectiveness of the vaccine overall. Despite the fact that last year’s vaccine didn’t work as well as most years, the vaccine has been historically successful in protecting the population from serious influenza outbreak.
Because the flu is a virus, it is constantly evolving. Which means, the vaccine won’t protect you from every single strain and unique type of flu. There are four main categories of influenza viruses, two of which are linked to seasonal epidemics (A and B).
A Strains (H1N1, H3N2)
A strains are the most common flu linked to epidemics. There are dozens of subtypes, but a few have emerged in recent years as the most common culprits of sickness.
B Strains (B/Yamagata, B/Victoria)
There are fewer strains of influenza B viruses, but these are also linked to the seasonal flu. The CDC has adjusted the flu vaccine for 2018-2019 to better protect the population against B strain influenza.
Influenza C is linked to mild respiratory illness and is generally not the cause of severe flu cases, or epidemics.
D strains are only known to affect cattle, and do not cause illness among humans.
Due to the complexity of A and B strains, a small number of people who get the flu shot will still get the flu. But that certainly doesn’t mean you should skip the flu shot. It just means the shot won’t make you invincible from everything out there this year.
So how does the flu shot work?
Flu vaccines consist of dead strains of A and B flu viruses, which are injected, most often into the arm of a patient. Because these flu strains are dead, it’s impossible for the shot to give you the flu. Even though the virus is dead, your body still reacts by building antibodies that fight these specific flu strains.
2. When is the best time to get a flu shot?
Because we don’t know exactly when the flu will strike, getting vaccinated earlier is always better. I recommend getting vaccinated as soon as you have time once the vaccine becomes available.
The CDC finalizes recommendations for the flu vaccination in August, and the vaccine is typically available in September. Flu shots are ready and waiting at all HealthPartners locations, so the best time for your flu shot is now!
How often do you need a flu shot?
Nationwide, more than half of adults choose to skip the flu shot each year. Patients even admit to me regularly that they don’t think they need one. They often think getting the flu in the past few years, or last year’s flu shot will protect them. Unfortunately, it won’t. To protect yourself and your loved ones, you should get your flu shot annually.
3. Why is it so hard to find the nasal mist?
In 2016, the CDC stopped recommending the nasal mist due to the fact that data has shown it is far less effective than the flu shot.
This year, the CDC has decided it will be including FluMist on its list of recommended vaccines again. My clinic and other HealthPartners and Park Nicollet clinics have made the decision not to offer it, due to the fact that it is simply less effective.
4. What are flu vaccine recommendations by age?
For everyone 6 months and older, the CDC recommends getting the flu shot yearly. But there are specific requirements and recommendations based on your age, and health. These include:
- 6 months to 8 years: Children getting vaccinated for the first time need two doses of the vaccine this season. And, children who have only gotten one dose of vaccine in the past also need two doses of vaccine.
- 8 to 65 years: Get a flu shot before the end of October, if possible.
- 65 years and older: Because older patients are at higher risk of complication from flu, we recommend a high-dose flu shot for the best protection. This is a shot specifically designed with higher antigen amounts, and is designed to stimulate a greater immune response.
- Egg allergies: A special shot is available that’s made from a virus grown in a cell culture.
Have more questions? Check out HealthPartners’ answers to frequently asked questions about the flu and flu vaccine. The CDC website is also a great resource.
5. How long does it take for the flu shot to be effective?
After getting your vaccination, it will take approximately two weeks for your immune system to be fully prepared. Your immune system must build enough antibodies, which simply takes time. Unfortunately, if you’re exposed to flu viruses before your shot or within the two weeks following, you can still get sick.
Ready to get a flu shot?
For $35 or less you can avoid the flu altogether this year, and sleep soundly knowing you’re doing your part in keeping your friends and family healthy too. Flu shot prices are extremely low. Many insurance plans cover vaccinations against viruses like the flu at 100 percent. So be sure to check. It could cost less than a pumpkin spice latte!