Many vaccines are a one-time event – you get the shot in your childhood or teenage years and that’s it. You have protection from that disease for a very long time. The flu is different. If you want to protect yourself from it, you need to get the flu shot each year.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and doctors recommend annual flu shots for every person above the age of 6 months. It doesn’t matter if you are a child, an adult, or a senior – the flu is a danger to everyone. In this article, we will explain why getting the flu shot is recommended each year.
What Is the Flu?
The flu is an illness caused by the influenza virus. The full name of the illness is “seasonal influenza” – we just call it “flu” for short. The virus mainly attacks and infects our respiratory system – the nose, throat, and lungs.
While the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 illness is quite new, the flu virus has been around for thousands of years. Although they cause similar symptoms – fever, cough, sore throat, breathing trouble – the influenza virus and coronavirus are not related.
The symptoms of the flu are quite easy to spot. They can include a sudden low-grade fever, dry cough, headaches, muscle and joint pains, runny nose, sore throat, and a general feeling of being sick. If you are healthy and young, you will probably get better within a week.
If you are older, suffering from other illnesses like diabetes or cancer, or have a weak immune system, the flu virus can be incredibly dangerous. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the flu kills up to 650,000 people each year, including more than 50,000 Americans.
What Is the Flu Shot?
The flu shot is just a common name for the flu vaccine. Since most vaccines are given by injection or a shot in the arm, we call it the “flu shot”. The vaccine is designed to protect your body against the flu.
Like all other vaccines, the flu vaccine works by teaching your immune system to detect and fight the virus as soon as it enters the body. To do this, a vaccination introduces a part of the dead/inactivated virus into the body so the immune system can build up a defense. When the real virus comes, your body will know what it is facing and already have the ability to fight it.
There are four main variants of the flu virus – Influenza A, Influenza B, Influenza C, and Influenza D. Modern flu vaccines given in the United States are quadrivalent vaccines – meaning, they provide effective protection against all four strains of the flu.
Who Should Get the Flu Shot?
The CDC recommends that anyone above the age of 6 months should get the flu shot every year. The vaccine is highly recommended for people belonging to the following categories:
- Older adults above the age 50.
- Children between the ages 6 months and 2 years.
- People with diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or COPD.
- Anybody staying in nursing homes, care homes, or assisted care facilities.
- People who are obese, with a body mass index (BMI) above 40.
Two doses of the flu shot are recommended for children who are getting their first-ever flu vaccinations. The doses should be given 4 weeks apart. After this, they can receive the normal single dose of the flu vaccine each year.
Who Should Not Get Flu Vaccines?
The flu vaccine is generally very safe for most people. Only a small category of people are exempted from getting the vaccine. They include individuals with the following health conditions:
- Newborn babies under the age of 6 months.
- People who currently have a fever should wait until the fever passes before getting the flu shot.
- People suffering from a disease called Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
- People who suffer from severe allergies to some vaccine ingredients.
If you fall into any of these categories, you should contact your regular medical provider before getting a flu vaccine.
When Should I Get the Flu Shot?
According to the WHO, seasonal flu can occur at any time of the year. It is only in colder climates that the flu is truly seasonal – it usually happens in winter. If you live anywhere warm and tropical, you can get the flu at any time of the year.
Here in the US, flu season typically starts in the fall – late September or early October – and lasts until the end of the winter in February. The best time to get the vaccine is in September or early October – this is because it takes 2 weeks for the vaccine benefits to fully develop.
Even if you missed it in October, you can still get the flu vaccine at any time throughout the flu season, or even after it. Late outbreaks of the flu can occur after February. Getting the vaccine will give you adequate protection against such outbreaks.
Why Do I Need to Get the Flu Shot Every Year?
The flu vaccine only provides effective protection for 6 months to a maximum of 1 year. This is because of a unique characteristic of viruses – they are constantly mutating (changing). The flu virus that infects you in one year will be different from the one that infected you in the previous year.
Our immune system is trained by the vaccine to identify and fight a particular strain of the virus. When that virus mutates, our immune system will have a harder time identifying it and cannot mount a stronger immune response.
This is why we have to develop new flu vaccines each year before the flu season. The newer flu shots are based on newer variants of the virus. In the US, vaccine companies usually get their new flu shots ready by August each year.
If you don’t get the flu shot every year, you will lose your protection against the seasonal flu. There is a higher chance of you getting the virus and coming down with a fever, which could lead to other unpleasant symptoms and complications as well. This is why you need to get annual flu vaccinations.
Doctors Recommend Yearly Flu Shots for Everyone
There are two key reasons why your medical provider will recommend that everyone get their free flu shots each year without fail before the next upcoming flu season. One is for your own safety and well-being. The other is for the safety of the community. Let’s explain why in greater detail:
The Flu Is Highly Contagious
One reason why doctors worry about the flu is because the virus can easily spread from person to person. You can spread the flu to others simply by coughing or sneezing – the virus travels through the air in the droplets that come out of your mouth and nose.
The CDC, which has never had any data controversy with the flu, estimates that anywhere from 9 million to 41 million Americans can get the flu each year, more than 10% of the population on average. If more people get vaccinated, we can bring down this number and reduce the damage.
The Flu Can Create Health Complications
Millions of healthy people who get the flu recover at home within a week. But many others are not so lucky – more than 200,000 people end up in hospitals because of the flu each year. If more people get sick, our hospitals could become overwhelmed with patients.
We have seen this happen during the early days of COVID-19. If too many people get very sick from the flu virus, doctors and hospitals will become overwhelmed and find it harder to provide proper care for everyone. Elective surgeries which are critical to maintain quality of life such as hip and knee replacements may be put on hold. Flu vaccinations greatly reduce the likelihood of this occurring.
The Flu Can Kill
If you are young and healthy, the flu may seem like a minor inconvenience at best. But all that changes dramatically as you get older. The flu is a leading cause of death among seniors above the age of 65.
If you have anybody in that age group in your family, they should be vaccinated along with everyone else in the family for maximum protection. The same also goes for people with weakened immune systems – people who have HIV, cancer, diabetes, COPD, heart disease, and the list continues.
Up to 52,000 deaths in the US are directly caused by the flu. Many of these deaths can be prevented by ensuring that everyone gets the flu shot on time each year. This is why the flu vaccine is considered a matter of public health.
The Flu Can Cost You Money
Hospital bills, doctor consultation fees, medication costs – whether you have a moderate or severe case of the flu, it will cost you money. Even if you have a mild case, you could end up losing money by staying at home instead of working. This is especially true if you earn a daily wage.
The cost of a single flu shot is much cheaper. And better still, most insurance plans provide coverage for free flu shots. At VNA, uninsured patients qualify for discounts based on income, regardless of immigration status.
Visit Your Nearest VNA Health Care Center for Your Flu Shot
If you are searching for “flu shots near me” in the suburbs of Chicago, your search ends with VNA Health Care. Our trusted team of qualified medical professionals is here to help you with flu shots for you and your family. We offer walk-ins at most clinics for suburban Chicago residents – you don’t need a prior appointment to get your free flu shot. (Note: Walk-ins are an option during regular working hours only.)
You can also schedule a home visit if you are homebound. To learn more about flu shots at VNA Health Care, read the FAQ on our dedicated page. For appointments or any questions, please give us a call at (630) 892-4355. You can also use any of the options provided on our Contact Us page.