* Information taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: www.cdc.gov.
Did you get your flu vaccine? Sure, it’s December, but there’s still time to get it! Vaccination before December is best since this timing ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity is typically at its highest. However, flu season can last as late as May so getting vaccinated later in the flu season could still provide protective benefit. About 2 weeks after vaccination, antibodies that provide protection against the influenza viruses in the vaccine develop in the body.
Other key points about the flu vaccine from the CDC:
- There are two types of vaccines:
- The “flu shot” — an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions. There are three different flu shots available:
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine — a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that is given as a nasal spray (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”). The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine do not cause the flu. LAIV is approved for use in healthy people 2 through 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
- The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Three kinds of influenza viruses commonly circulate among people today: influenza B viruses, influenza A (H1N1) viruses, and influenza A (H3N2) viruses. Each year, one flu virus of each kind is used to produce seasonal influenza vaccine.
- A flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The influenza viruses contained in a flu shot are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection. Flu vaccine manufacturers kill the viruses used in the vaccine during the process of making vaccine, and batches of flu vaccine are tested to make sure they are safe.
- The most common side effect of seasonal flu shots in adults has been soreness at the spot where the shot was given, which usually lasts less than two days. The soreness is often caused by a person’s immune system making protective antibodies to the killed viruses in the vaccine. These antibodies are what allow the body to fight against flu.
- There are several reasons why someone might get flu-like symptoms even after they have been vaccinated against seasonal flu.
People may be exposed to one of the influenza viruses in the vaccine shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.
People may become ill from non-flu viruses that circulate during the flu season, which can also cause flu-like symptoms (such as rhinovirus). Flu vaccine will not protect people from respiratory illness that is not caused by flu viruses.
A person may be exposed to an influenza virus that is very different from the viruses included in the vaccine. The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends largely on the similarity or “match” between the viruses or virus in the vaccine and those in circulation. There are many different influenza viruses.
Unfortunately, some people can remain unprotected from flu despite getting the vaccine. This is more likely to occur among people that have weakened immune systems or the elderly. However, even among these people, a flu vaccine can still help prevent complications.
- If you get sick, there are drugs that can treat flu illness. They are called antiviral drugs and they can make your illness milder and help you feel better faster. They also can prevent serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia.
- There is no shortage of vaccine this year. Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as by many employers, and even in some schools.
If you haven’t done it, now’s the time to get your flu shot! Once vaccinated, you can enjoy this holiday season knowing that you have taken the single best step to protect yourself and your loved ones against the flu.