Yearly influenza (flu) vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older. Getting a flu vaccine each year is the BEST WAY to help prevent flu and its serious complications. For children, getting a flu vaccine can even be lifesaving!*
Even if you or your family members didn’t get vaccinated yet this season, its not too late. Vaccination is the best way to prevent flu and its serious complications.
Flu Activity in the U.S. (Updated on February 21, 2020)
According to the CDC, flu activity is high across the country. So far during the current flu season, there have been at least 29 million flu illnesses, 280,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths – including 105 children – from flu. View the CDC’s FluView to monitor current flu activity in the U.S.
Benefits of Flu Vaccination
Even if the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, getting the flu vaccine every year is still very important. Getting the flu vaccine can:
- Keep you from getting sick with flu.
- Help you get back on your feet sooner if you do get sick with the flu.
- Reduce the risk of children dying from flu.*
- Reduce the risk of serious flu complications like hospitalization for children and adults.
- Help protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness and complications due to age and/or certain chronic health conditions.
- Protect women during and after pregnancy.
*A 2017 study published in Pediatrics showed that flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from the flu. The study found that half of flu-related deaths in children from 2010 to 2016 occurred in otherwise healthy children – only 22% of these children were fully vaccinated. Nearly 2/3 of children died within seven days of developing symptoms.
Pneumococcal pneumonia is an example of a serious flu-related complication that can cause hospitalization or death. Flu season is good time for people 65 and older, and people with certain chronic conditions, to check with their healthcare provider about pneumococcal vaccinations.
The CDC recently published their first estimates of the 2019-2020 flu vaccine’s effectiveness. So far this season, flu vaccines are reducing doctor’s visits for flu illness by 45% overall and 55% in children. While this protection isn’t as high as we would like, the flu vaccine is providing some protection to those who get it as recommended, and it is currently the best protection we have available. It is important to note that these estimates are only related to the flu vaccine’s ability to prevent outpatient medical visits. Data from studies that are measuring the flu vaccine’s effectiveness against more severe outcomes, such as flu-related hospitalizations or deaths, will be available from CDC at a later date.
Types of Flu Vaccines
Every year, new flu vaccines are created to help protect against the flu viruses that research shows will be most common during the upcoming season. There are different kinds of flu vaccines this season available including flu shots and nasal spray. Most of the flu vaccines available this season in the U.S. contain four influenza viruses. The two high-dose flu vaccines, specifically for people 65 and older, contain three influenza viruses.
Both CDC and AAP recommend that people get vaccinated with any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine. They don’t recommend any one flu vaccine over another.
When to Get the Flu Vaccine
The CDC recommends that you and your family members get a flu vaccine by the end of October each year. Since it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to provide protection, it is best for you and your family members to get vaccinated before flu begins spreading in your community. If you were not able to get vaccinated in early fall, it is not too late. Getting the flu vaccine later in the season is still beneficial and can protect you and your family members from serious flu-related complications.
Some children 6 months through 8 years of age will require two doses of flu vaccine for protection from flu. Children who need two doses of flu vaccine should start the vaccination process as soon as the flu vaccine is available because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart, and you want to be certain that your children have as much protection as possible before flu begins spreading in your community.
Other Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Family
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, your family should take everyday precautions:
- Cover your cough and sneeze
- Wash your hands often
- Stay home from work and/or school when sick, and stay away from sick people
Antiviral drugs are also available for treatment of the flu. If taken early (AS SOON AS YOUR SYMPTOMS BEGIN), antivirals can lessen symptoms, shorten duration of illness, and help prevent severe illness and flu complications.
But, not everyone needs to get antivirals. The people recommended to get antivirals are those who are at higher risk of complications and severe illness from flu including those 65 years and older, young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. CDC recommends that healthcare providers treat patients with antivirals as soon as they suspect flu, and should not wait for confirmation from lab tests. Learn more.
Common Questions About the Flu Vaccine
Can the flu shot give me the flu?
No. The way that flu shots are made they cannot cause the flu. Flu shots are made from either flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) OR a single gene from a flu virus (instead of the full virus) so they can create an immune response without causing a flu infection.
While some people may get mild side effects from the flu shot like a sore arm, a headache, muscle aches or a low fever, those side effects usually begin soon after the shot and only last 1 -2 days.
Why do some people not feel well or feel like they have flu symptoms after getting the flu vaccine?
The most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Some people also report having a low fever, headache and muscle aches. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after getting the shot and last 1-2 days.
Besides side effects, there are several reasons why someone might get flu symptoms, even after they have been vaccinated against flu.
- Some people can become ill from other respiratory viruses besides flu such as rhinoviruses, which are associated with the common cold, cause symptoms similar to flu, and also spread and cause illness during the flu season. The flu vaccine only protects you from the flu, not other illnesses.
- It is possible to be exposed to influenza viruses, which cause the flu, shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.
- Some people may experience flu like symptoms even after getting vaccinated because they were exposed to a flu virus that is very different from the viruses the vaccine is designed to protect against. The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends largely on the “match” between the viruses selected to make the flu vaccine that season and those spreading and causing illness. There are many different flu viruses that spread and cause illness among people. (Note: CDC’s flu vaccine effectiveness estimates are not available yet this season.)
Learn more about flu, its symptoms, and the vaccine that helps prevent it.