By Jennifer Larson
Are you ready? Flu season is coming.
And you don’t want to wait to get your seasonal flu vaccine. Make it a point to get a flu shot as soon as you can to reduce the chances that you’ll get a nasty case of the flu this year.
The beginning of flu season always coincides with the end of summer. Typically, flu activity tends to ramp up in October in North America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It lasts through May with a peak between December and February.
Many pharmacies and doctors’ offices begin offering flu shots in September, so you can get one before the number of flu cases in your area starts to surge upward.
And that’s a good idea. Why? A flu shot can help you in a couple of ways. Ideally, it will protect you from getting the flu. Each year, experts create the seasonal flu vaccine to protect you against the strains of influenza that are most likely to be circulating that year. While the flu shot is not 100% effective—that is, it doesn’t always exactly match the flu strains that are circulating—it can still give you some important protection.
Secondly, if you get a flu shot, you’re much more likely to have a milder case—with fewer or no complications—if you do wind up getting the flu. Possible complications of the flu can include sinus infections, ear infections, bronchitis, and pneumonia.
Another benefit: If you get the flu shot, you’re less likely to spread the flu to other people, including those people at elevated risk.
Just about everyone can benefit from a flu shot each year. In fact, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months, with a few exceptions, should get a seasonal flu shot.
If you’re at high risk for complications, getting a flu shot as soon as possible should be at the top of your to-do list. This category includes:
Adults who are 65 years or older
People with certain chronic health conditions, including asthma, diabetes, and heart disease
People with HIV/AIDS
Cancer patients and cancer survivors
Children with certain neurological conditions
If you can go ahead and get a flu shot, it’s worth your time. It takes your body about two weeks after getting vaccinated to ramp up protection of the antibodies that will fight off the flu. You want to be ready before you encounter those flu germs. Plus, there’s added incentive this year: the coronavirus pandemic.
“Getting the flu shot is even more beneficial this year,” notes Shirin Peters, MD, founder and medical director of Bethany Medical Clinic of New York.
This year, influenza will be circulating at the same time as the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While the flu shot won’t protect you from getting a COVID-19 infection, it can help you avoid getting the flu—which might put you in the hospital, where you could potentially be exposed to COVID-19.
“There is also the uncertainty and stress that will come with flu exposure since flu symptoms can easily be confused for COVID symptoms, and it’s virtually impossible to tell which virus is the cause of your symptoms without testing in a medical office for both,” Dr. Peters says.
If you’re worried about paying for a flu shot, you can erase that worry right now. This year, some retail outlets, including Walgreens, already have the first batch of seasonal flu vaccine in stock. And they’re offering gift cards, discounted prices, or even free flu shots to encourage people to get them.
In fact, FamilyWize and Walgreens are partnering to provide free flu vaccines from September - December 2020. As part of our ongoing commitment to helping everyone, free flu vaccine vouchers are available by request via 211. Contact your local 211 and ask about the FamilyWize free flu voucher at Walgreens. The number of vaccine vouchers is limited, so call now!
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