Why it's important to get your yearly flu shot

Flu season is just around the corner: It typically begins in October or November, peaks in January or February and can continue through May.  Given that it takes about two weeks for the vaccination to build the antibodies necessary for protection, what better time than now to get vaccinated?

The influenza virus(es) changes every season, so it is very important to get vaccinated each and every year.  For example, this year, the main strain of the virus is completely different than last year, so the antibodies you acquired from last year’s vaccination may not be effective against this year’s strain.  Research has shown that resistance (either via natural methods or vaccination) to influenza decreases each year, further supporting yearly vaccinations.

Certain populations of people are more susceptible to the flu and should be sure to obtain a vaccination each and every year.  On the other hand, there are some groups who should not receive a vaccination.

Keep in mind that an influenza infection affects everyone differently; for one person it could just be a fever and achy body, bur for another, it could mean hospitalization or even death.  As a general rule, anyone over 6 months of age should get vaccinated.

If you have certain medical conditions (e.g. asthma, lung disease, diabetes), are pregnant, are 65 years or older or live with/care for others who are at a high risk of contracting influenza, you should especially get an influenza vaccination.

If, however, you are allergic to eggs, have had a severe reaction to a previous influenza vaccination, are younger than 6 months, have a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome or currently have an illness which includes fever, you should not get vaccinated without first consulting your physician.

There are a few different types of flu vaccines, with each type designed for certain populations.  The flu shot, an inactivated vaccine, which contains the killed virus, is given with a needle and is approved for those aged 6 months and older.

The high-dose flu shot is also given with a needle, but contains a higher dose than the original flu shot; for this reason, this vaccine is designed for people aged 65 and older.

The intradermal flu shot is given with a much shorter needle, thus injecting into the skin rather than the muscle, and is approved for people aged 18-64 years old.

Finally, there is a nasal-spray vaccine that is composed of live, weakened flu viruses.  These viruses will not cause the flu, however, this vaccine should only be used in healthy people, aged 2 to 49 years, who are not pregnant.

While getting a flu vaccination is likely to help prevent you from getting the flu, it is not completely foolproof; there is a small chance that the viruses contained in the vaccination will not match the circulating strains.

However, regardless of how well the vaccine corresponds with the circulating strains, it is still important to get vaccinated to help protect yourself and to prevent any flu-related complications.  As always, speak with your physician before obtaining a vaccination to ensure it is a safe option for you.