flu vaccine elderly

The Importance of Getting a Flu Vaccine

Flu season is upon us, and this year, it’s more important than ever to guard yourself! Every year, more than 40,000 people in the United States die of the flu—and the majority of those deaths are seniors.

This flu season looks a little different than most, but one thing remains the same: it’s important to protect yourself (and others) by getting your flu shot. It’s quick, easy, and free with most insurances, so don’t wait!

What Is the Flu Vaccine?

If you’ve already had one version of the flu, your immune system has learned how to fight that particular strain and you cannot be infected with it again—but the flu virus is constantly mutating, changing into different forms so that it can continue to infect people. That’s why there is a new flu vaccine every year; experts monitor changes in flu strains and do their best to predict which strain is most likely to spread this year. Then, they create a vaccine specifically designed to fight that strain.

There are a few different versions of the flu vaccine, but they all operate on the same principle: you receive a shot that contains the inactivated (or “dead”) virus. When the virus enters your body, it provokes a response from your immune system. Your cells become familiar with the virus and build immunity. In the future, if the live virus enters your body, your immune system already has the tools to fight it off before it makes you sick.

Certain factors may affect the version of the vaccine that you receive (people with egg allergies, for instance, typically cannot receive the shot—but may qualify for a nasal spray), however, regardless of the administration method, the flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to combat the flu. In fact, it is estimated that the flu shot saves over 100,000 lives each year.

Will It Make Me Sick?

There is a common misconception that receiving the flu shot can actually give you the flu rather than preventing it. Everyone knows someone’s uncle or sister-in-law who got the shot and came down with the flu a few days later. It’s important to know that the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu, since the virus you’re injected with is already dead. However, there are reasons that someone may get sick after receiving their shot:

  • Side effects of the vaccine. These are usually mild. These include soreness, redness, and tenderness at the injection site, as well as low-grade fever, headache, and muscle aches.
  • Allergic reactions. Reactions to the vaccine are rare and typically happen soon after the injection.
  • Other illness. The flu vaccine only protects against the flu, so it’s possible to contract another illness (such as a cold) soon after you receive your shot.
  • You were exposed to the flu before the vaccine protected you. Yes, it is possible to get flu symptoms after your shot—if you were exposed to the flu before the vaccination took effect. The flu shot takes about two weeks to build immunity in your body. If the live virus enters your body before you receive the vaccine (or before you’ve built up immunity), you can still get the flu.
  • You were exposed to a different flu strain. Experts do their best to predict which strain of the flu will be most prevalent during flu season, and they craft the vaccine to protect against that specific strain. If you are exposed to a different strain, you can still get that version of the flu.
  • Vaccines vary in effectiveness. Vaccines are not 100% effective. Depending on the person, you could get the vaccine and still contract the same strain of the flu. However, it has been shown that the flu is less severe if you’ve already gotten a vaccination.

Where Can I Get My Flu Vaccine?

The good news is that the flu vaccine is easy to get. Doctors and pharmacists have made it readily available in convenient spots all around you—yes, even during COVID lockdowns! Walk-in vaccinations are available at most pharmacies, including Walgreens, CVS, even pharmacies in stores such as Target, Shaw’s Stop & Shop, and more! Flu shots are offered for free with most insurances, so it’s easy to get them anywhere you go.

If you can’t get to a pharmacy, call your doctor. Most doctor’s offices will also offer the shot at no cost, and you may be able to get a same-day appointment.

Still not sure where to get your shot? Take a look at the CDC’s VaccineFinder tool to find a site near you.

Protect Yourself Today

The flu shot is a vital part of ensuring you and your family have a safe, healthy flu season. With so many facing health concerns right now, the last thing you need to worry about is contracting the flu. Do you need access to a flu shot? Click below to find the nearest Flu Vaccine provider near you!