This year’s flu shot may be the most important ever.
With COVID-19 cases expected to rise this fall and winter, it’s more important than ever to get a flu shot to keep you and your family safe. Check out a few of the most frequently asked questions from our members to help you get ready for flu season.
Although many people think that getting the flu means just having a normal winter cough, what they don’t know is that the flu can make a lot of otherwise healthy people really sick. If healthy people got a flu shot, they’d help protect themselves from illness as well as prevent the flu from spreading to those who are more vulnerable, such as elderly parents or grandparents; people with diabetes, cancer, heart disease or other chronic conditions; those who take medicine to suppress their immune system; pregnant moms and newborn babies.
I got a flu shot last year. Do I need one again this year?
Yes, you do. Flu viruses change every year, so the vaccines are updated annually to include viruses that will most likely be around in the upcoming season. That’s why it’s important to get a flu shot every year.
Children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years will need two doses of the flu vaccine if this is their first flu vaccine. If your child needs two doses, they should receive their first dose as soon as the vaccine is available. The second dose can be given four weeks later. You can check with your pediatrician on whether your child will require one or two doses.
When’s the right time to get a flu shot? Can you get it too early or too late?
The best time to get the vaccine is in September and October right before flu season starts. This is because it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective. However, it’s not too late to get the flu shot after October and even into February, as long as it’s available, and the flu virus is still infecting people.
Where can I get a flu shot?
Here are some easy ways for you to get a flu shot:
If you have a scheduled provider visit coming up soon, ask them if you can get your flu vaccine during that visit.
Call your local pharmacy and find out if they offer flu shots. If they do, make an appointment to get vaccinated. Some pharmacies also offer walk-in times. Pharmacists who are licensed to give flu shots have been trained to choose the safest vaccine for you.
If neither of these options are available to you, you can search for a flu vaccine location at: www.vaccinefinder.org
What are my options for getting a flu shot in a socially distanced setting?
While onsite and in-hospital clinics are the most common places to get a flu shot, many clinics, hospitals and pharmacies offer drive-through flu shots or scheduled appointments so that you can avoid crowds. Check your local flu shot clinics to see what options they have.
Is getting a flu shot free for me and my family?
Flu vaccines are usually free for anyone with employer health insurance, Medicare Part B or other insurance that’s part of the Affordable Care Act, as well as for many Medicaid beneficiaries. Depending on your insurance, you may need to go to an in-network doctor or pharmacy to get the vaccine for free.
Will there be a shortage of flu shots this year?
So far, there have been no reported delays in getting flu vaccines distributed. That said, private companies produce the flu vaccine, so the amount available depends on them. For the 2020–2021 season, manufacturers are projecting that they’ll supply roughly 198 million doses of flu vaccine to the U.S. market. These projections can change throughout the flu season.
Who should get a flu shot?
Although everyone 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine, it’s especially important that certain groups who are more likely to get really sick get a flu shot. This includes individuals who:
Are over the age of 65
Have lung disease including asthma and COPD
Have heart disease
Have a high BMI (body mass index)
Are taking medications that suppress their immune system
What type of flu shot is right for me?
The short answer is: It depends. If you have an egg allergy, there are flu vaccines that are egg-free. There’s also a high-dose flu vaccine, which is recommended for people over age 65. If you’re not sure about which flu shot is right for you, talk to your healthcare provider or Grand Rounds to understand your options.
Can a flu shot give you the flu?
No, it can’t. The injected flu vaccine is made of parts of the—and not the whole—influenza virus. Sometimes people will feel tired and achy for a day or two after getting the shot. This is a sign that your immune system is working to protect you. There’s also a nasal spray, which is a live flu virus that has been weakened in the laboratory. It should not be given to pregnant women or individuals with a weakened immune system.
Can you get a flu shot if you’re sick or have a weakened immune system? How long should someone wait for symptoms to be gone before getting the flu shot?
Yes, you can. People with a weakened immune system have a high risk of becoming extremely sick with the flu. Since the flu shot isn’t a live virus, there’s no risk to these individuals from the vaccine itself. If you have a mild illness like a cold without a fever, you can get it. If you have a fever (T>99.5 F), then you should wait until you have no fever for 24 hours without the use of Tylenol or other fever reducers.
What should I do if I have the flu, a cold or COVID-19?
If you get sick, it’s important to isolate yourself from others and contact your healthcare provider or Grand Rounds. Contact us by phone or message us through the app to get a quick response to questions about your health. One of our clinicians can talk to you about your symptoms and unique situation to figure out the right next steps for you.
Dr. Elizabeth Baorto is a board-certified specialist in pediatric infectious disease and obesity medicine focused on addressing global issues in healthcare and its delivery to children and families at Grand Rounds. Prior to Grand Rounds, where she’s worked for the last five years, Dr. Baorto was the Director of Pediatric Infectious Disease for Atlantic Health System in New Jersey for 17 years. She received her medical degree at SUNY Brooklyn, her masters in Public Health at Columbia University, and completed her residency and fellowship training at Washington University of St. Louis.
DISCLAIMER: The advice in this article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not meant to replace or substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment from a medical professional. Please consult with your doctor with questions you may have regarding a personal medical condition or treatment.