FLU Shots 2018 – The Essentials to Know

With flu season approaching, it’s important to start thinking about the flu shot.

According to the CDC, an annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of getting sick with seasonal flu and spreading it to others. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less of the flu can be spread through that community. But, what is the flu shot and how does it work?

What is a flu vaccine?
There are different forms of the flu vaccine. You can get the flu vaccine as a shot, which is what most people think of when it comes to the flu vaccine. The flu shot contains inactivated virus particles, meaning there are no live viruses present. The type of virus in the flu shot is seasonal, and it changes based on the pattern of flu viruses that were seen in the previous flu season.
For people who are afraid of getting shots, another option available is the nasal spray flu vaccine. This form was not used last year because it had shown low efficacy in preceding flu seasons. However, based on the WHO’s recommendation this year, it will likely be recommended this season. This is different from the flu shot because it has live attenuated influenza, which is a weakened form of the virus. It is not able to cause the flu, but can help prevent the flu just like the shot. The limitation with the nasal spray flu vaccine is that only children 2 years and up can use this. It is also not recommended for pregnant women, people with asthma, or those that are immunocompromised. There are several versions of the flu shot available this year and discussing the options with us or your health care provider is really important.

In general, it is best to specifically request a “quadrivalent” flu vaccine because it protects against the four stains of influenza virus that the CDC predicts will be the most likely to cause influenza illnesses this winter (whereas, some “trivalent”vaccines only  provide protection against three flu strains).

How does the flu vaccine work?
The flu vaccine works like any other vaccine, in that it exposes your body to the inactivated or weakened virus particles. This means that you don’t get the flu itself (contrary to what some people may think), but it will allow your immune system to be exposed to the virus particles. Your body will then develop antibodies towards the viruses that are contained within the vaccine. These antibodies give you protection against the flu itself, but it does take 2 weeks after you get vaccinated to develop the antibodies and be fully protected.

How effective is the flu shot?
Efficacy of the flu shot is determined by a couple of different factors.
The flu shot itself — The season’s circulating flu viruses and how well the vaccine matches the current season’s flu viruses. That’s determined by the previous year’s flu viruses. It’s important to note that the flu vaccine never 100% matches with the flu virus that is circulating.
The immune system of the individual being vaccinated — If someone has a weaker immune system, the person won’t build up enough antibodies, and the vaccine won’t be as effective as for someone with a robust immune system.
The type of virus — The efficacy can vary based on the virus strain, but on an average the efficacy of the flu shot is 40–60% according to the CDC.

When should I get the flu shot?
The flu vaccine is typically offered the beginning of September, so I recommend getting it prior to the onset of the flu season. That said, the flu vaccine can be given anytime during flu season (which usually ends by April next year).
So, why is it important to get the flu shot?
The flu shot it your best defense against getting the flu and is recommended for everyone. For pregnant women and people with immune conditions, it’s strongly suggested to get the flu shot early.

What about the flu shot for children?
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine. If your baby is younger than 6 months, it’s important that you keep a close eye on symptoms to help protect them from the flu. For children from 6 months to 8 years, it’s recommended to get two doses of the flu vaccines, 4 weeks apart. Make sure you have had the flu shot, and anyone you or your child makes contact with has had the flu shot as well.