It’s the time of year when we hear friends, coworkers and family members discussing flu shots. Do they work or not? When should you get one? What does one shot really do anyway? Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infection of the respiratory system, often involving the nose, throat and lungs. The most frequently reported flu symptoms are fever, headache, chills, body or muscle pain, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and cough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu shots for everyone over six months of age. High-dose flu shots are available for adults age 65 and older – often one of the most vulnerable groups to a flu infection.
But even experts will tell you that flu shots aren’t 100 percent effective. So, why get one? According to the Mayo Clinic, this year’s annual flu shot will provide protection against four of the viruses expected to be most common this flu season. Getting the flu vaccine will lower your risk of getting the flu and possibly prevent serious illnesses requiring hospitalization from flu complications. Board-certified emergency medicine physician Dr. Edwin Schaumburg from East Tennessee Medical Group’s CareToday Clinic says flu shots usually are available beginning in September or October each year, and often are available until spring. “It takes two weeks for immunity to build, but getting the flu shot, even late in the season, can still prevent the flu or, at the very least, reduce the symptoms,” Schaumburg stated.
And, yes, experts recommend an annual flu vaccination. Why? Flu viruses change quickly, and last year’s vaccine may or may not protect you from this year’s strains. That is one reason new vaccines are developed each year and annual shots are recommended. Another important factor is that immunity and antibody levels decline over time, making an annual flu shot a necessity to avoid infection. However, your health care provider will help you make the decision about whether this year’s vaccine would be safe for you, especially if you have previously had a severe reaction to a past flu vaccine.