Why should people get vaccinated against the flu?
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. CDC estimates that flu-related hospitalizations since 2010 ranged from 140,000 to 710,000, while flu-related deaths are estimated to have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000. During flu season, flu viruses circulate at higher levels in the U.S. population. (“Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May.) 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 flu can spread through that community.
How do flu vaccines work?Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. There are also flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.
Who should get vaccinated this season?
Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. This recommendation has been in place since February 24, 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the United States to expand protection against the flu to more people.
Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza. List below are the groups of people who are more likely to get serious flu-related complications if they get sick with influenza.
People at High Risk for Developing Flu-Related Complications:
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- Adults 65 years of age and older
- Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- American Indians and Alaskan Natives
People who have medical conditions including:
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury].
- Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
- People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- People with extreme obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or more)
Who Should Not Be Vaccinated?
Factors that can determine a person’s suitability for vaccination, or vaccination with a particular vaccine, include a person’s age, health (current and past) and any allergies to flu vaccine or its components.
People who cannot get a flu shot:
- Children younger than 6 months are too young to get a flu shot.
- People with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients.
People who should talk to their doctor before getting the flu shot:
- If you have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your allergy.
- If you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness, also called GBS). Some people with a history of GBS should not get this vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your GBS history.
- If you are not feeling well, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
When should I get vaccinated?
You should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in your community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu, so make plans to get vaccinated early in fall, before flu season begins. CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later. Children who need two doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner, because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.
Why do I need a flu vaccine every year?
A flu vaccine is needed every season for two reasons. First, the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Second, because flu viruses are constantly changing, the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and sometimes updated to keep up with changing flu viruses. For the best protection, everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated annually. Does flu vaccine work right away? No. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. That’s why it’s better to get vaccinated early in the fall, before the flu season really gets under way.
Flu vaccination also may make your flu illness milder if you do get sick. Getting vaccinated also protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions.