Your Guide to the Influenza Vaccine: What You Need to Know

Your Guide to the Influenza Vaccine: What You Need to Know

Why Get Vaccinated?

The influenza vaccine, or flu shot, is our best defense against influenza, a contagious disease that spreads annually between October and May. While anyone can contract the flu, it poses a greater threat to infants and young children, people aged 65 or older, pregnant individuals, and those with certain health conditions or weakened immune systems.

The flu can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections, and can worsen existing medical conditions like heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. Symptoms typically include fever and chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache, and a runny or stuffy nose.

In an average year, thousands of people in the United States die from flu, and many more are hospitalized. Thankfully, the flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor visits each year.

The Vaccine

The CDC recommends everyone aged 6 months and older get vaccinated every flu season. Children between 6 months and 8 years may need 2 doses in a single season, while everyone else needs only 1 dose.

Protection develops about 2 weeks post-vaccination. The vaccine is updated annually to target the influenza viruses expected to be most prevalent in the upcoming flu season. Even when the vaccine isn't a perfect match, it may still offer some protection. Importantly, the influenza vaccine does not cause the flu and can be administered alongside other vaccines.

Talk with Your Healthcare Provider

Before getting the vaccine, inform your provider if you've had an allergic reaction to a previous flu shot or have any severe, life-threatening allergies. Also, let them know if you've ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).

Your healthcare provider may decide to postpone vaccination in some cases. People who are pregnant can receive the vaccine at any time during their pregnancy. Individuals with minor illnesses may be vaccinated, but those who are moderately or severely ill should usually wait until they recover.

Risks of a Vaccine Reaction

Post-vaccination, you may experience soreness, redness, swelling at the injection site, fever, muscle aches, or headache. There may be a slightly increased risk of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) after receiving the flu shot. Young children who get the flu shot along with pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13) and/or DTaP vaccine at the same time might be slightly more likely to have a seizure caused by fever.

Sometimes, people faint after medical procedures, including vaccination. Inform your provider if you feel dizzy or have vision changes or ringing in the ears. As with any medicine, there's a very small chance of the vaccine causing a severe allergic reaction, other serious injury, or death.

What if There is a Serious Problem?

An allergic reaction could occur after the vaccinated person leaves the clinic. If you observe signs of a severe allergic reaction (hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, or weakness), call 9-1-1 immediately.

If you notice other signs that concern you, contact your healthcare provider. Adverse reactions should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). You can reach VAERS at 1-800-822-7967 or on the VAERS website. Please note that VAERS does not provide medical advice.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is available to compensate those who may have been injured by certain vaccines.

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