As the weather cools down at the beginning of fall, the talk of flu shots becomes more prevalent. Many people think they don’t need a flu shot, or that if they got one the previous year they don’t need to get another one; however, influenza is a serious and potentially deadly disease that has killed, in various years, anywhere from three- to forty nine-thousand people in the U.S.
The more people who get a vaccine lower the risk of influenza spreading throughout the community, which is one reason the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone over the age of six months get one annually.
“Flu season” loosely lasts from October to May, peaking around January, and vaccines usually become available at the end of summer. A new vaccine is formulated and released every year in anticipation of the strains believed to be most likely to be problematic that season; flu viruses evolve extremely quickly and there are many different strains. This is why it’s incorrect to think that a vaccination from the previous year will continue to provide protection. The annual vaccine usually protects against a few different strains, increasing immunity overall. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective, so it’s a good idea to get vaccinated early, but it’s still very protective even if you get it after the season starts.
Although healthy people can contract the flu, certain groups are at a higher risk: pregnant women, seniors, children, and those with a compromised immune system are not only more likely to get the flu, but also to suffer from complications. Those with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, HIV/AIDS, kidney or liver disease, and people undergoing cancer treatment are at increased risk too.
Although flu shots aren’t 100% effective, getting vaccinated decreases your chances of getting sick and can make the symptoms less severe if you do get sick. Flu shots don’t just protect you, though: they also help protect others, since the virus is less likely to spread in a healthier population.