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7 reasons to make time for your flu vaccine (even when you’re swamped)

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Getting an annual flu vaccine can help protect you, your loved ones and others. And it’s quick and convenient, too.

Apples and pears are in season. The air is crisper. And you’re hearing coughs and sneezes again everywhere. Yes, cold and flu season is here.

It’s getting colder, so it’s time to get your annual flu vaccine.1 But you’ve never been busier. A trip to the pharmacy or your doctor’s office seems like one in a mile-long list of chores.

But here’s the thing: The payoff of getting a flu vaccine is huge. Taking some time out of your day could save you time sick in bed or worse. And it can help protect the people you care about.

Here are seven reasons why it’s important to get your annual flu vaccine.

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Reason #1: You’ll get protection from the flu.

Getting a flu shot is worth it. It helps your body fight off the virus by giving your immune system more tools to beat it back.2 And it’s convenient. Plus, the amount of time it takes to get your shot is far shorter than the amount of time you’ll feel sick if you get the flu.3,4

A flu infection usually lasts a few days, but it could last weeks.3 That’s a lot of time away from work, school and anything fun you had planned for the fall or winter, says Daniel Griffin, MD. He’s an infectious disease specialist with Optum, based in New York.

“It’s a lot quicker to get a flu shot than it is to get the flu without it,” he says. “The great thing about the flu shot is not only can it reduce how long you’re sick, but it will also significantly reduce your risk of having to take time out of your busy schedule to go see the doctor.”

Reason #2: You’ll protect yourself from other serious illnesses too.

Besides the flu, the flu shot can prevent you from getting sick with other illnesses related to having the flu. Or having other flu-related complications.2

Getting the flu can lead to other health problems. Those could be everything from respiratory illnesses to sinus or ear infections. The flu can also develop into pneumonia (an infection in your lungs caused by bacteria or a virus). And that could put you in the hospital, and your recovery from pneumonia could take weeks, explains Dr. Griffin.

Reason #3: You’ll help protect your family, friends and others from viruses.

If you’re younger, you may assume that the flu won’t be as bad for you. So, you might decide that the flu shot isn’t worth it.

It‘s true that the flu may not hit you that hard, Dr. Griffin notes. But if you pass it to someone else, it could be more dangerous for them. For example, the flu could be worse for a young child, parents or grandparents.5

That’s because the flu can affect people of certain ages or those with chronic health problems, such as asthma or COPD, differently. They’re more likely to have severe illnesses if they get the flu.5

Babies under the age of 6 months can’t get vaccinated for the flu. That puts them at greater risk of getting infected with the flu virus. And babies are at a greater risk of being hospitalized from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).6 Adults over the age of 65 are also at higher risk of flu complications. That’s because their body’s ability to fight the infection may not be as strong.7

“All of us getting out there and making time to get our flu shots not only protects us but also protects people that we care about,” Dr. Griffin says.

Reason #4: You’ll be armed with the most up-to-date medicine.

You know how you have to update the software on your computer or phone from time to time? The same is true of the flu shot. Each year, flu shot makers update the medicine in the shot.8

Researchers around the world use data from previous years to figure out which types of flu viruses (strains) are most likely to affect the most people the following year.8 That way, they can create a flu shot that’s most effective.

You can’t count on last year’s shot to get through this year’s flu season, Dr. Griffin notes. “The prior flu shot doesn’t give you the protection you’d need,” he says. “The different flu strains that we see every year are different enough from the flu that we saw the year before.”

Reason #5: Your flu shot side effects likely won’t be so bad.

You may have heard that getting the flu shot will give you the flu. That’s not true. The shot either contains:9

  • Versions of the flu virus that can’t give you the flu anymore
  • Particles designed to look like the flu virus to your immune system

Either way, the vaccine doesn’t contain a live virus that can infect you with the flu.

In some cases, you’ll experience some minor symptoms once you get the shot, such as:9

  • Soreness, redness or swelling where you got the shot (likely in your arm)
  • Mild headache
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Low-grade fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea

In most cases, the symptoms are mild and will fade within a day or two.

In rare cases, some people may have a serious, life-threatening allergic reaction to the flu shot. If you think you’re having an allergic reaction, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.9

Reason #6: If needles aren’t your thing, no problem.

If you’re not good with shots, you may be able to get the flu vaccine another way. There’s a nasal spray called FluMist that can protect you against the same flu strains that the vaccine does.10

One major difference between FluMist and the flu vaccine is how each is made. While the flu vaccine contains versions of the flu virus that won’t give it to you, the spray has a weakened version of the flu virus.10

For young, healthy people who are not pregnant, the CDC says that FluMist is safe. Plus, like the flu vaccination, it shouldn’t cause you to get the flu.11 However, it’s not recommended for people with some chronic conditions, because its safety hasn’t been tested. And, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved FluMist for people ages 2 to 49.11

Interested in FluMist? Ask your doctor whether it’s right for you.

Reason #7: The flu shot could save your life.

The flu shot may be a lifesaver, especially if you have a chronic condition or are an older adult.

The CDC estimates that the flu led to as many as 710,000 hospitalizations and 52,000 deaths in the United States between 2010 and 2020.12

And getting immunized reduces your risk of getting the flu by 40% to 60%.4 Research also suggests that the flu shot can prevent severe symptoms, hospital admissions and trips to intensive care.13

Bonus reason: Flu shots are usually free, and there are more places than ever to get one.

If you have health insurance or get government assistance, the flu shot is usually free.

And you can get one at more places than you might think. Here are some convenient options that save time:

  • Some grocery chains and superstores have pharmacies where you can get a flu shot.
  • See if your local mall has a pharmacy that’s offering shots.
  • Need to pick up a prescription at your local pharmacy? Get your flu shot while you’re waiting.
  • Our running errands? Check with your city or neighborhood group; there might be a pop-up clinic nearby.

You could also go the old-fashioned route and schedule an appointment with your doctor. You can also find a place to get the shot near you by visiting vaccines.gov.

There’s a lot of fun to be had this fall and winter. And the flu shot can protect your body and your plans.

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Sources

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Summary: ‘Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)—United States, 2023-24’. Last reviewed August 23, 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do Flu Vaccines Work? Last reviewed February 8, 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Symptom & Complications. Last reviewed October 3, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Flu (Influenza). Last reviewed May 6, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Facts About Flu. Last reviewed October 24, 2022, Accessed September 11, 2023.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Protect Against Flu: Caregivers of Infants and Young Children. Last reviewed September 21, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  7. National Institute on Aging. Flu and Older Adults. Last reviewed June 14, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Selecting Viruses for the Seasonal Influenza Vaccine. Last reviewed November 3, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Vaccine Safety Information. Last reviewed August 25, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine [LAIV] (The Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine). Last reviewed August 25, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza (Flu)Vaccines Safety Information. Last reviewed September 30, 2021. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease Burden of Flu. Last reviewed October 4, 2022. Accessed September 11, 2023.
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Vaccine Provided Substantial Protection This Season. Last reviewed February 22, 2023. Accessed September 11, 2023.

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