The flu season typically starts in October and runs through May, so health officials often recommend that you get a flu shot in the fall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the yearly flu vaccine is the best way to protect against flu viruses.
Important facts about the flu vaccine
A flu shot either contains elements of flu viruses that have been inactivated (meaning they are not infectious) or are made without any viruses at all (which are called recombinant flu vaccines). You can’t get the flu from any type of flu shot.
Typically, there are both three-component or four-component vaccines available every year. Three-component vaccines defend the body from an influenza A (H1N1), another influenza A (H3N2) and an influenza B virus. The four-component vaccines protect against these three types of influenza, as well as an additional B virus. Depending on your age, the health of your immune system, allergies and other factors, your doctor will recommend which flu shot you should get.
Why the flu shot changes every year
According the CDC, the influenza virus is constantly changing, so health scientists must reevaluate the expected strains of the virus each year. This is why the exact elements of the flu shot may be different from year to year. The World Health Organization assembles of team of researchers annually to determine which viruses are making people sick, how quickly the virus is spreading, and how effective last year’s vaccine was. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decides on the official vaccines to be administered in the U.S.
How to know if you need the flu shot
The CDC recommends that all persons age six months and older get the flu vaccine. Some people might have an increased risk of flu-induced complications. This includes children under age 5, those over age 65, pregnant women, and people who live in nursing homes or other care facilities. Newborns under six months of age and people allergic to the flu vaccine (or allergic to ingredients in the flu vaccine, like gelatin) should not get a flu shot.
Additionally, people with the following health conditions should also get a flu shot, because contracting the flu could worsen their symptoms or lead to other complications:
- Asthma or chronic lung disease
- Neurological conditions
- Heart disease
- Blood disorders
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes)
- Kidney or liver problems
- Metabolic disorders
- Damaged immune system
- Extreme obesity
Why you should get a flu shot in the fall
Ideally, the best time to get a flu shot is in October. However, getting a flu shot anytime of the year is better than not getting a flu shot at all. The CDC highly recommends getting a flu shot before the virus starts to spread each year. The flu continues to spread during the winter, so even if someone gets a flu shot in December or January, it can still protect against the virus for months to come.
If you’re unsure about getting the flu shot or have any questions, talk to your doctor about the flu vaccine. Getting a flu shot could save your life, so it’s important to make getting the vaccine a yearly must-do for your health, especially in the fall.
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