The CDC recommends a flu shot for everybody from six-month-old babies on up. The recommendations and available vaccines change slightly each year, so we’ve got your cheat sheet for the 2019 flu season.
At this point you should already have gotten your flu shot, if however you are still on the fence – here is some info to maybe push you over the edge and to the doctor’s office for a jab.
What are my options?
There are a few different kinds of flu shots, but most healthy adults don’t have to worry too much about which is which. It’s OK to go with whatever flu shot is at the surgery where you show up.
This year, most shots will be quadrivalent, meaning they protect against four (rather than three) different types of flu. The vaccine versions that are out there include:
Regular vaccines delivered with a needle (trivalent or quadrivalent).
Regular vaccines delivered with a jet injector, which is held up against your arm and sort of shoves a puff of vaccine through your skin. (You can see video of someone getting this type of vaccine here.)
For older folks (whose immune systems don’t respond as well to the regular vaccine), high dose flu shots and flu shots with adjuvant.
The nasal spray is back.
The intradermal vaccine, delivered with a tiny needle under the skin, is not available this year. Sorry.
The nasal spray (squirted up your nose, instead of being injected into your arm) was pulled from the market a few years ago, after studies showed it didn’t give enough protection. Now it’s back, although the CDC notes that the regular vaccine will still probably work better.
So if you can get the needle, you probably should — or look for a “needle-free” flu clinic that uses the jet injector. But if you have needle phobia so bad your would otherwise skip the shot, the nasal spray is better than nothing.
Not everyone can get the spray, though, because it’s made differently than the other vaccines. The nasal spray contains live viruses, but they have been altered so they are weakened, and they also can’t survive at body temperature so they can’t infect your lungs. But because you are technically being infected by a virus when you get the nasal vaccine, the CDC recommends that you not use this option if you’re pregnant, if you’re 50 or older, or if you have a weakened immune system or certain conditions that make you more vulnerable to infection. Read up on these precautions here.
Can’t the flu shot give me the flu?
How much does it cost?
Flu shots generally cost around $25, but that can vary. High dose shots may cost more.
Does it matter when I get it?
Now is good. The best time is “at least two weeks before somebody coughs flu germs in your face,” but that’s hard to predict. Mid October is perfect, because it’s often in early November that flu cases start to rise in the Northern Hemisphere (which is then brought down under by people travelling on airplanes), now in late April there is only a small window of opportunity to get the shot before it becomes to late,
If your child is getting the flu vaccine for the first time, they’ll need two doses, given four weeks apart. You’ll want to start that process in September, since they won’t be fully protected until the second shot kicks in — but, again, better late than never.
A late shot is still better than none, though, and you can even get a shot toward the end of flu season if supplies are still available.
If you already got your shot this time around, that’s fine. The vaccine’s protection does decline over time, but not enough to make a big difference for most of us.