What Is the Flu Shot and Who Should Get One?

What Is the Flu Vaccine?

The flu vaccine (or flu shot) is an annually administered dose of a mixture of materials that are designed to trigger your body’s immune system. The theory is that if your body has been exposed to small amounts of the flu, that it will quickly recognize the strain in the future. This allows your immune system to quickly overwhelm the flu with antibodies and either completely avoid feeling the symptoms of the flu or significantly reducing the flu’s effectiveness.

The flu vaccine typically contains seven ingredients. Six of those ingredients remain static, while the flu vaccine is altered in an attempt to counter the predicted strains that may be present that year. Traditional flu shots are considered trivalent, which means that they fight three types of flu.

Ideally, all people ages six months and above should get the vaccine for the best protection. Some children, between 6 months and eight years of age may require an additional dose to be considered vaccinated.

Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine

While the flu shot will not give you the flu, other potential side effects are related to the vaccine. Side effects also vary from the method of vaccination.

Common side effects of the flu shot may include:

  • Soreness
  • Redness
  • Low-grade fever
  • Generalized aches

The children’s nasal spray’s side effects may include:

  • A runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • A headache
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever

Adult spray side effects are:

  • A cough
  • Funny nose
  • A headache
  • A sore throat

Occasionally, the flu shot can present more severe side effects, typically from an allergic reaction. Individuals that have an egg allergy are cautioned for the flu shot, but can also opt for a special dose of an age-appropriate vaccine. These individuals should also opt for vaccination when in the presence of licensed medical professionals. This allows for medical observation after the shot is injected.

Flu Vaccine Effectiveness  

While the flu shot does not guarantee that you will not get the flu, recent studies suggest that the vaccination is between 40 percent and 60 percent effective at completely avoiding the flu. Studies have also found that those who received the vaccine exhibit less severe flu symptoms and recover more quickly than those who did not get vaccinated.

The annual effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary greatly. This is due to two potential factors.

The first is the individual who is being vaccinated. This is largely dependent on the risk category of the individual. Factors such as age, or general health play a significant role in the effectiveness of the vaccination.

The second factor that affects the effectiveness of the vaccine is the match of the vaccine to the actual flu that presents that year. In some years, when the vaccine is not matched to the flu, the vaccination may be less effective.

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Who Should Get a Flu Vaccine?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people above six months old should receive the flu vaccine. The CDC has put this guidance into effect every year since 2010 for residents of the United States.

There are some variations for people in different age groups, but this variability only applies to the type of vaccine that should be given. If you have further questions, please consult with your healthcare provider for more information as it pertains to you.

How Much Does the Flu Shot Cost?

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans are required to cover the flu vaccination without charging a copay or coinsurance. However, some insurance programs may only cover the cost of the flu shot in specific locations. If you aren’t sure about your coverage, it’s best to call your insurance company and ask in advance.

For individuals without insurance coverage, the flu vaccine price can vary with your age. Typical flu shots for children and adults would run approximately $32, while the shot for patients 65 years and older may cost around $60. These prices may vary based on geographic location or other variables, so it’s best to ask or call your health care provider and ask what they charge.

Where Can You Get a Flu Vaccine?

Flu vaccination locations are becoming increasingly widespread. Common locations include:

  • Doctor’s offices
  • Health clinics
  • Local pharmacies
  • Hospitals

In some instances, workplaces, and some churches may also hold vaccination clinics to vaccinate as many people as possible. If you are unsure about locations that are offering the vaccination, call your health care provider or local pharmacy.

Many places will also post roadside signs, or announce vaccinations on electronic signs during preceding and during flu season.

The Bottom Line…

The flu vaccination can help protect a large number of people from getting the flu. If you would like to learn more about the flu vaccine, please reach out to your medical provider. If we all do our part to protect ourselves from the flu, then we are significantly reducing the chances of a large population becoming sick.

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