I know; you don’t want to think about flu season just yet. After all, it’s not officially fall for another couple of weeks. Can’t this conversation wait until the days are shorter and the air is more brisk? In short—nope, it can’t. So, let’s get started, shall we?
While it’s true that flu season usually peaks in February, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that influenza breakouts can begin as early as October and continue into May. It takes two weeks for antibodies to build in your system after receiving a flu shot. That means, if you want to protect yourself and your family from the get-go, it’s best to get vaccinated in late September. However, if you are reading this article months after it was published and still haven’t gotten a flu shot, it’s not too late to protect yourself from a winter surge of the virus.
Why should I get vaccinated?
The flu is not just a nuisance; it can potentially lead to life-threatening complications. I know this because a good friend of mine came down with the flu last year and spent the weeks following her initial diagnosis fighting for her life. She was a 27-year-old marathon runner and yoga instructor with no preexisting medical conditions. Yet, the virus attacked her body quickly. She developed pneumonia and then acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) as her lungs filled with fluid. Her doctors had no choice but to induce her into a coma and put her on a ventilator so she could breathe. With her family, friends, and fiancé by her side, she fought her way to a miraculous recovery. Unfortunately, not everyone in her situation is so lucky.
If that doesn’t convince you to run out and get a flu shot, remember that when you protect yourself against the flu, you are also helping those around you. Children, pregnant women, people over the age of 65, and those with preexisting medical conditions are most likely to develop complications from the virus. How would you feel if you exposed the most-at-risk people in your life to the virus after you had contracted it? Not so great, I imagine.
Are there some people who shouldn’t receive the flu shot?
Yes, there are few groups of people that should consult their doctors before getting the flu shot. If you have an allergy to eggs or other vaccine ingredients (gelatin or antibiotics in some cases), have Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), or are already feeling ill, visit your primary care doctor to discuss your options.
Where can I get the flu shot?
If you are a college student, it is likely that you can receive a flu shot at your campus health center. Check its website to find information on vaccine availability, appointments, and walk-in hours. If the information is not readily available online, call before you go.
Besides your campus health center or your primary care physician’s office, the local health department, pharmacies, and some offices will employ health professionals to administer flu shots. Use the CDC’s HealthMap Vaccine Finder to find the most convenient location.
How much will it cost?
There are many low-cost options for students. If you have health insurance, you can likely receive the shot without paying coinsurance. If you don’t have health insurance, you may still be able to receive the shot for free at your campus health center, your work, your parent's’ work, or your county health department. Otherwise, Costco gives flu shots for only $14.99, Walmart administers them for $25.00, and CVS provides them for $39.99. If you are concerned about affording the shot, call ahead of time to inquire about prices.
What about the nasal spray flu vaccine?
For the 2016-2017 season, the CDC does not recommend the nasal spray flu vaccine.
Is it still possible to get the flu even if I have received a flu shot?
Yes, even if you get the flu shot, it is possible to come down with the flu. If you are exposed to the virus prior to receiving the flu shot or within the following two weeks, your body may not develop the antibodies fast enough to combat the virus.
It’s also possible that you could become sick with a strain of the flu that is not covered by this year’s flu shot. Medical researchers do their best to predict the top three to four strains of the virus that will circulate across the country in the coming year, and they develop the vaccine accordingly. Sometimes, their predictions are incorrect and another strain is more active than expected, rendering the flu shot less effective. However, even if the strain that you contract is not a perfect match to those predicted, the antibodies that you have developed from your flu shot could provide some protection.
The bottom line is this: Yes, there is a chance you could still get the flu, but by receiving the vaccine, you are reducing your risk by 50-60%. It’s a no-brainer, if you ask me.
Are there side effects of the flu shot, and is it safe?
The flu shot is very safe, but some people do experience mild side effects, including soreness, redness, and swelling where the shot was given; low grade fever; and body aches. Considering the symptoms and longevity of the actual flu and the serious complications that could develop (remember my friend?), I’d say that a day or two of being slightly under the weather is a small price to pay.
What do I do now?
Clear time in your schedule to find your closest flu shot provider, inquire about its prices, schedule an appointment or make time to go to a walk-in clinic, and follow through with actually getting the shot! I know it sounds tedious, but it’s worth it. You’ll be thankful you made the time when don’t have to pay a bunch of medical bills, miss a week of class, and make up late assignments because you got the flu. Trust me on this one.