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Getting the flu shot: 10 things to know

We’ve all heard talks of the “second wave” and how we need to prepare for an uptick of COVID-19 cases this winter. A rise in coronavirus cases means more people in the hospital and more COVID-19 patients for doctors and nurses to tend to.

U.S. health officials are therefore pushing Americans to get vaccinated against the flu to help prevent hospitals that are anticipated to become ever busier battling COVID-19.

Unfortunately, misinformation and false claims may derail their efforts.

One of the most frequently asked questions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website is, “Does flu vaccination protect against COVID-19?”

The answer is no. However, the flu shot has “many other important benefits,” according to the CDC, such as reducing the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death.

“Getting a flu vaccine is more important than ever during 2020-2021 to protect yourself, your family and your community from flu,” according to the CDC website. “A flu vaccine this season can also help reduce the burden on our healthcare systems responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and save medical resources for care of COVID-19 patients.”

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 that often float around this time of year.

Using information from the CDC, here are 10 things you should know before you get your flu vaccination:

The flu shot is the best way to prevent getting the flu

Eating well, exercising, washing your hands and other healthy habits can obviously help combat the flu. But the single most effective line of defense against the flu is the flu vaccine.

The flu shot cannot give you the flu

Because the flu shot contains the influenza virus, the most common misconception associated with the vaccination is that getting the shot can give you the flu. According to the CDC, this information is false. 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 flu shot vaccine is different every year

This is another very important reason you should consider getting the flu shot. The vaccine changes annually because different strains of the flu virus circulate every year.

Did you know that a team of over 100 national influenza centers keep careful watch of the virus throughout the year, testing thousands of flu virus samples along the way? They then send their findings to five World Health Organization research centers with the world’s leading scientists who specialize in the flu. Only then is a new recommendation for the upcoming season’s flu vaccine made.

You should get the flu shot before the end of October

The best times to get the flu shot are in September and October to ensure you’re protected before the start of the flu season, according to the CDC. 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.

There are multiple types of flu vaccines

You have a couple of options when it comes to which vaccine to choose, but you typically 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. Ask your doctor about where the different types of vaccines are offered if you prefer one type over another.

But no type is more effective than another.

The most important thing is just to get the shot, according to the CDC.

People as young as a 6-month-old can get the flu shot

The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated every year, with rare exceptions. Children as young as 6 months old are not approved for receiving nasal spray vaccines, high-dose vaccines or recombinant vaccines. 

But children older than 6 months should be vaccinated with an approved flu shot unless they have an allergy or other medical condition, according to the CDC. 

Nasal spray vaccines are not safe for everyone

In addition to certain 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, it is safer to opt for a regular flu shot.

People with severe allergies should not get the flu shot

Note: This is a rare situation. But some people do experience allergic reactions from the flu shot. These individuals are likely either allergic to the virus itself or an ingredient in the vaccine, such as gelatin or antibiotics.

Also note that it is safe to get the flu shot if you have an egg allergy, despite previous recommendations from the CDC.

The flu shot has some side effects

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, soreness and redness or swelling where the shot was given which often disappears in a matter of days.

Despite possible discomfort, the CDC highly recommends getting a flu shot if you are able to. There’s a good chance you’ll be doing yourself and your community at large a favor if you do.