A nurse cleans the injection site on a woman's arm before giving her a shot.

Flu shots and nasal spray vaccines

Flu shots and nasal spray flu vaccines in Minnesota and western Wisconsin

No one likes getting the flu. We’ve all had to deal with chills, aches and exhaustion. When the flu strikes, it can take weeks to recover. The best way to stay healthy and avoid days stuck in bed is with your annual flu vaccine. And with COVID-19 in our communities for the foreseeable future, it’s more important than ever to get your flu shot to protect you and others during the flu season.

At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, we make it easy to add getting a flu vaccine to your list of errands. We offer flu shot appointments at many locations in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Why you need a flu shot

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about half of Americans get a flu shot each year. But getting vaccinated is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others from the flu virus.

The most obvious benefit of the flu shot is that it lowers your risk of getting sick. You’re up to 60% less likely to get the flu if you’ve had the flu shot .

Studies also show that even if you do get sick, your flu symptoms will be less severe, and you’ll be less likely to need hospital care to recover.

If you’re someone who doesn’t usually get sick, getting vaccinated against the flu is still important – it helps prevent others from getting sick, too. If we encounter the flu virus but don’t get sick, it’s still possible to pass the virus on to others.

However, when you’ve had the flu shot, your body can kill the virus so you can’t spread it. This helps protect people who are at risk, including young children, older adults and people who have compromised immune systems.

How the flu vaccine works

When you’re infected with a virus, your immune system makes antibodies that fight off the virus. A flu vaccine helps your immune system make antibodies before you get sick. Flu shots are the most common type of flu vaccine, but we also offer FluMist, which is a nasal spray flu vaccine.

What is in the flu shot?

When you get a flu shot, you’re injected with an inactive flu virus. Even though the virus is inactive and can’t get you sick, your immune system still recognizes it as an intruder. This spurs your immune system into creating antibodies that can fight off the flu. This means that if you’re exposed to an active flu virus, your body will already be prepared to protect you from getting sick. It takes about two weeks from the time you get your shot for the vaccine to become fully effective.

What is in FluMist?

FluMist, which is sprayed into your nose, contains live attenuated virus. This means the virus used to make the vaccine is weakened so it can’t cause disease, but it can still trigger an immune response to provide protection against the flu.

The 2022-2023 flu vaccine: What you need to know

The 2022-2023 flu vaccine is based on the four types of influenza viruses that scientists expect to be the most common this year. There are different types of flu vaccines, but the CDC recommends you get any age-appropriate flu vaccine during this flu season.

When to get the flu shot or FluMist vaccine

For most people, the best time to get a flu shot or FluMist vaccine is in September or October – preferably before flu season begins. Why? Because we don’t know exactly when the flu will strike in any given year. While flu cases usually start ramping up in November and December, flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May.

The flu vaccine is usually effective for six months, about the length of flu season. Getting your flu shot early will provide the best protection. Depending on your age, there are some specific vaccination recommendations:

  • Ages 6 months to 8 years old: For children getting a flu shot for the first time, two doses are needed. The CDC recommends kids get their first dose as soon as possible so that they can get their second dose by the end of October. If your child has received a flu shot in the past, they’ll only need one dose – which they should get by the end of October.
    • FluMist is a safe option for kids 2 years old and up who don’t have contraindications. This can be a good option if your little one is concerned about getting a shot.
  • Ages 8 to 65 years old: Generally, the recommendation is to be vaccinated in September or October.
    • FluMist is a safe option for people in this age group through 49 years old who don’t have contraindications.
  • Ages 65 and up: Because older adults are at higher risk of complications, we recommend a high-dose flu shot given in September or October.
  • Pregnant women: Pregnant women, particularly those in their third trimester, should get their flu shot as soon as it’s available. Getting a flu shot while pregnant can help reduce the risk of your baby getting influenza during the first few months of their life.
  • Egg allergies: People with egg allergies can receive any influenza vaccine formulation.

Also, if you have any severe, life-threatening allergies or you’ve had an allergic reaction to a previous flu shot or other immunization, talk with a doctor about your vaccination options.

When are flu shots available?

Typically, flu shots are available starting in September of each year and remain available for as long as influenza is circulating in the community – which can be March, April or even May.

When is it too late to get a flu shot?

It’s never too late to get your flu shot. For the best protection, we recommend getting your flu shot as soon as it’s available. But it’s still worthwhile to get vaccinated later in the year or even in early Spring. Any vaccination will provide more protection than not getting the shot at all.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

We recommend the flu vaccine for anyone six months or older. It will help protect you from serious complications from the flu, and it reduces the risk of you passing the flu virus to others.

The flu shot is especially beneficial for people who are at a higher risk of developing flu complications, including:

  • Pregnant women
  • Adults 65 and older
  • Children 5 years old and younger
  • People with asthma
  • People with diabetes
  • People with cancer
  • People with HIV/AIDS
  • People with neurological conditions

While most people can get the regular flu shot, there are different types of flu shots for adults 65 and older. If you’re not sure which type of flu shot is best for you, ask your doctor.

If you’re interested in getting the FluMist vaccine for you or your child, let us know when making the appointment.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

One of the biggest myths about flu shots is that they can give you the flu. This is simply not true – for flu shots or FluMist vaccines.

Flu shots are made with inactive (dead) virus, so it can’t give you the flu. And while FluMist contains live virus, the virus is so weakened that it cannot cause you to get the flu.

Some people might experience mild side effects after they get a flu vaccine. If you get a flu shot, the most common side effects are muscle soreness, and tenderness and swelling around the injection site. If you get a FluMist vaccine, the most common side effect is a runny nose. Other possible side effects with any flu vaccine are a mild fever, muscle aches or a slight headache.

Since the flu virus can adapt and change, the flu vaccine can’t protect against all strains of the flu. All the flu vaccines are now quadrivalent, which means they protect you from four different strains of the flu. Health experts use research to determine which strains of flu to include in the vaccine based on what will be the most common that flu season. Flu shots typically give protection against two types of influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) and two types of influenza B.

No, the flu shot won’t prevent or reduce the severity of COVID-19. That’s because influenza and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses.

But it’s possible for you to be infected by both viruses (and other respiratory conditions) at the same time – which can lead to serious complications. The best way to protect yourself and those around you is to get vaccinated for COVID-19 and influenza.

Data suggests the flu vaccine and all currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines provide excellent protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death for their respective illnesses.

Yes, there are different types of flu vaccines, including different delivery methods (a flu shot or a nasal spray vaccine) and different formulations and doses for people who have a higher risk of getting serious complications if they get influenza. Talk with your doctor about the best type of flu vaccine for you.

Yes, people 65 and older are at a higher risk of developing complications from the flu. For the 2022-2023 flu season, it’s recommended that older adults get a specially formulated vaccine like the Fluad quadrivalent adjuvanted flu vaccine.

Specially formulated vaccines are designed to provide greater protection against flu-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits than other flu shots. For example, the Fluad vaccine is made with medicine that helps boost and lengthen the duration of your immune system’s response to the flu.

The flu vaccine generally lasts for the entirety of the flu season. This means that you’ll need to get a flu shot every year.

The cost of a flu shot depends on your insurance coverage. Many insurance providers cover flu shots 100%. If you’re not sure what your insurance covers, call the number on the back of your membership card.

For patients under 19 years old who do not have health insurance, they can receive a flu vaccine through the Vaccines for Children program at no cost to them. If you are an adult without insurance, you can get a flu shot for $50 at a HealthPartners clinic.

We accept most health insurance plans, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CIGNA, HealthPartners, Medica, Medicare, PreferredOne and many others.

Not sure what your insurance covers? Call the number on the back of your card for help looking at your options.

Don’t have your card in front of you? Here are member services numbers to help you get started: