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2020 Flu Season: What to Know Before You Get Your Shot This Year

2020 Flu Season: What to Know Before You Get Your Shot This Year

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What you need to know before getting your flu shot this year

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There are many wonderful things about the fall — but unfortunately it also marks the approach of flu season, which means preparing for sneezes and sniffles, stocking up on tea and tissues and, above all, getting your flu shot.

Millions of Americans come down with the flu every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while some people experience symptoms so mild they might think it's the common cold, others’ experience with the flu can be deadly.

The flu vaccine is an often free, accessible and relatively painless method of prevention. If you’re apprehensive, you may feel more comfortable getting a flu vaccination once you understand some common misconceptions. Using information from the CDC, here are 20 things you should know before you get your flu vaccination.

A flu vaccine is the best way to prevent getting the flu

A flu vaccine is the best way to prevent getting the flu

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There are other things you can do to stay healthy throughout the flu season, such as making sure to wash your hands properly. However, the single most effective line of defense against the flu is the flu vaccine.

The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu

The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu

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Since the flu vaccine contains the influenza virus, there is a common misconception that the flu vaccine can give you the flu. However, this is a health myth you should stop believing — the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. The viruses in the flu vaccine are either killed and inactivated or severely weakened. In both cases, the virus is unable to spread throughout the body and cause illness.

The body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time

The body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time

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Your body’s immune response from vaccination actually dulls with time, meaning that last year’s flu shot just isn’t going to cut it for protecting you this year.

The flu vaccine is different every year

The flu vaccine is different every year

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Another reason you need to receive the flu vaccine annually is because each year’s vaccine is different. Different strains of the flu virus are expected to be in circulation each year since the virus is constantly mutating and adapting. A team of over 100 national influenza centers in more than 100 countries keeps careful watch of the virus each year, testing thousands of flu virus samples. They send their findings to five World Health Organization (WHO) research centers that then consult the world’s leading scientists who specialize in the flu. Using this data, a new recommendation for the upcoming season's flu vaccine is made.

The flu vaccine works by causing antibodies to develop

The flu vaccine works by causing antibodies to develop

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Before understanding more about how the flu vaccine is going to affect your body, it’s important to understand how the vaccine actually works. Essentially, the vaccine doses small amounts of either inactive or weakened influenza virus into your body. This process, called inoculation, triggers an immune response, and your body builds up antibodies to resist the strains of the virus included in the vaccine. Once these antibodies are generated, they remain in your system and work to ward off future infection from the virus.

It takes 2 weeks to build up antibodies after a flu vaccine

It takes two weeks to build up antibodies after a flu vaccine

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While getting your flu shot is one of the best ways to not get sick, the process of developing antibodies to fight the flu takes time. It will take around two weeks from when you receive your vaccination until you are safeguarded against those strains of the flu. So if you come into contact with the flu before those two weeks are up, you can still get sick.

You should get the flu vaccine before the end of October

You should get the flu vaccine before the end of October

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The CDC recommends getting vaccinated in early fall to ensure you’re protected before the start of flu season. The best time to get vaccinated is before the end of October. If you miss that deadline, you will still be able to get vaccinated since vaccines are often offered until January or later — you will just be at greater risk for infection until then.

Getting vaccinated too early can lower your protection against the flu

Getting vaccinated too early can lower your protection against the flu

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While it's better to get your shot early, there is a possibility of vaccinating too early. Jumping the gun can result in reduced protection against the flu later in the season. This is because your immunity declines over time, and the earlier versions of the flu vaccine may not account for later mutations of the virus. Though a vaccine might be available sooner in July or August, wait until September or October.

There are multiple types of flu vaccines

There are multiple types of flu vaccines

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You have a couple of options when it comes to which vaccine to choose. Typically, you can choose between trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines. Trivalent vaccines protect against three types of flu virus, while quadrivalent vaccines, the most common kind, protect against an additional fourth. You may also opt for a high-dose option or a nasal spray vaccine that contains live but weakened strains of the virus. Ask your doctor about where the different types of vaccines are offered if you prefer one type over another.

No one type is considered more effective than the other

No one type is considered more effective than the other

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There are some differences in the administration methods of the various types of flu vaccines, but they are all considered equally effective. The most important thing is that you get the flu vaccine and that you choose one that is appropriate for your age group that doesn’t interfere with other health conditions.

People as young as 6 months can get a flu shot

People as young as 6 months can get a flu shot

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The flu vaccine isn’t only for adults and school-aged children. In fact, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated every year, with rare exceptions. Children as young as 6 months are not approved for receiving nasal spray vaccines, high-dose vaccines or recombinant vaccines (flu shots made without flu viruses or eggs, so they are safe for people with egg allergies). But children older than 6 months should be vaccinated with an approved flu shot unless they have an allergy or other medical condition.

Some types of flu shots are not appropriate for older people

Some types of flu shots are not appropriate for older people

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If you are over 65, it’s not advised to get a flu shot that’s administered with a jet injector. This is much less common than using a typical needle, but it can’t hurt to check with the person administering your vaccination that their choice is safe for you. You also should steer clear of the nasal spray vaccinations once you're over the age of 50,  something everyone over 50 should know about their health.

Nasal spray vaccines are not safe for everyone

Nasal spray vaccines are not safe for everyone

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In addition to age restrictions, the CDC advises against nasal spray vaccines for certain populations. If you are pregnant, have a weakened immune system or have any of the other conditions listed on the CDC website, you’re better off opting for a regular flu shot. But remember, flu shots are considered just as effective as the spray.

People with severe allergies should not get a flu shot

People with severe allergies should not get a flu shot

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Though it is rare, some people do experience allergic reactions to the flu shot. These people are likely either allergic to the virus itself or an ingredient in the vaccine, such as gelatin or antibiotics. There has been some confusion about the safety of flu shots for people who are allergic to eggs. People with egg allergies can still get a flu shot, despite previous recommendations that they should steer clear or receive supervision for 30 minutes after receiving a vaccine. The CDC changed its recommendations after studies revealed how unlikely these reactions to the vaccine really were. For the rare case of a severe and life-threatening egg allergy, there are flu vaccines designed to be safe for these populations that can be taken with medical supervision.

The flu shot has some side effects

The flu shot has some side effects

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The flu shot is considered generally safe for most of the population. However, you may experience some slight side effects. The CDC says that side effects include aches, a low-grade fever and soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given. Though these side effects may be mildly uncomfortable, they don’t last long, often disappearing in a matter of days.

Nasal spray vaccines have additional side effects

Nasal spray vaccines have additional side effects

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If you opt for a nasal spray vaccine rather than a shot, there are some additional side effects to consider. The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine are live but weakened. As a result, a small percentage of those who get their vaccine via nasal spray may experience mild symptoms such as a runny nose, headaches, a sore throat and a cough, and in children it may also cause wheezing, muscle aches and fever. These symptoms, however, are much milder than those of the actual flu and don’t last nearly as long.

You can file a claim for compensation if you have been injured by the flu shot

You can file a claim for compensation if you have been injured by the flu shot

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It’s very rare that serious reactions to the flu vaccine occur. However, if you think you may have suffered health consequences after getting a flu shot, you can file for financial compensation. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) accepts petitions from anyone who received a covered vaccine. If a case for injury is made or you are able to reach a settlement, you may be compensated accordingly.

You can get vaccinated in many places

You can get vaccinated in many places

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There are many options for where your can get a flu vaccination. You could always visit your doctor’s office — or you can visit a pharmacy, a walk-in clinic, your local health department or a college health center. Also check if your employer or school offers vaccinations.

You can still get the flu if you are vaccinated

You can still get the flu if you are vaccinated

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The flu vaccine can’t give you the flu — but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get sick. The flu vaccine does not provide 100% protection against the virus. This is in part because you can get sick within the two-week window after getting your vaccine and also because there is no way to include every current strain of the flu virus in the vaccination. Another mutation of the flu could still infect you.

The flu vaccine can help reduce flu symptoms if you do get sick

The flu vaccine can help reduce flu symptoms if you do get sick

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Though the flu vaccine can’t entirely protect you from getting sick, it can reduce the severity of your illness if you are infected. A study from the CDC showed that hospitalized flu patients who received a flu vaccine had a lower risk of death, intensive care unit (ICU) admission and lengthy hospital admission. Rather than battling a life-threatening bout with the flu, you can ensure your case is mild if you do catch it by getting the vaccine. While they are no replacement for your annual flu shot, you can also help bolster your body against the flu with these immune-boosting foods.

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