We’ll bet that your excuses for skipping the seasonal flu shot sound a lot like these:
- “I haven’t had time.”
- “I never get sick, so I’ll be safe.”
- “I don’t want to get a touch of the flu!”
- “Flu shots only work some of the time anyway.”
Sound familiar? Any physician will tell you: These excuses are bogus! For most of us, there is nothing to lose—and everything to gain—from getting a yearly flu shot. Even the healthiest among us can easily catch the virus.
“The annual flu vaccine is a very important protective measure against the influenza virus—both for you and for those around you,” says David Harrison, MD, medical director and VP of physician affairs at Teladoc Health.
Read on to learn about the most powerful flu protection from the fall though the spring.
What the flu can do
The flu spreads easily, by coughing, sneezing, and close contact with someone who may be infected. The flu virus can take over your whole body, putting “regular life” on hold for up to a week or more. It’s not unusual for people to suffer a number of intense symptoms including fever, chills, headache, body aches, runny and stuffy nose, extreme tiredness, and even vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms send hundreds of thousands of people to the hospital each year.1
On the positive side, vaccines against the flu actually prevent millions of illnesses and health provider visits each year: In the 2016-2017 season, flu vaccination prevented about 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-related medical visits, and 85,000 influenza-related hospitalizations.1
The question is: Which group of statistics do you want to be a part of?
How the vaccine works
The seasonal vaccine works by boosting your immune response to create antibodies that protect you from infection. Since flu viruses change, formulas differ from year to year, meaning you have to get the shot annually for it to work. The vaccine protects against a number of virus strains, but cannot cause you to get the flu. While there’s still a chance of catching the flu after being vaccinated, your chances are much lower, and the severity of your illness will be much less.1
The vaccine is available as a shot—usually in the arm—or nasal spray, and is recommended for everyone six months and older. Not only does getting the shot protect you, it protects people who are vulnerable to serious illness like babies and young kids, older folks, and anyone with a chronic health condition.1 So it’s good for your community, too.
Vaccines are not always recommended in some situations and for some health conditions, so talk to your physician first before getting a flu shot.
When and where to go
Flu season usually ramps up in October, and can last until May. The vaccine takes about two weeks to generate the antibodies needed to protect against the flu virus. So as early as September, go get your flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to get vaccinated by the end of October, if possible.
It has never been more convenient to find flu shots: not only are they available at doctors’ offices, you can find them at health clinics, pharmacies, supermarkets, community centers, and even some schools. Often you won’t even need an appointment. It’s usually covered by insurance, or available at low cost if paying directly.
How to prepare for flu season
Getting the seasonal vaccination is absolutely our best way to prevent the flu, Dr. Harrison says. “Plus, if you do become infected, vaccination can decrease the severity of symptoms and likelihood of influenza-related complications,” he adds.
It’s true: The vaccination can reduce your chance of dying from the disease, and lowers intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and length of stay for hospitalized flu patients.2 So to stay healthy, priority number one is getting a flu shot around summer’s official end. If you drop the ball until the end of the fall, no problem. You can still get the shot in December or even January. A late shot is better than no shot.
Be sure to keep over-the-counter pain medications like Ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) and a decongestant on hand. You never know when illness—of any kind—will strike. Have a working thermometer in the medicine cabinet, as well as tissues throughout the house to combat congestion.
If the flu or other infection strikes your household, use a disinfectant cleaner to keep the spread of germs under control. Also keep hand soap and sanitizer stocked so you can clean hands frequently.
Update your medical history now and download the Teladoc app so you’re prepared in case illness strikes. If you do get sick, you have 24/7 access to physicians who are licensed in your state. The flu can be dangerous, especially for young children, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic health conditions. Make sure you take your best shot at a successful flu season: a vaccination. If you need help, we’re here to hold your hand on your path to wellness.
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