Why You Should Never Wait to Get Your Flu Shot

One quick vaccine can help you avoid serious illness this season

Photo: Woman's upper arm with bandage

For the vast majority of us, contracting the flu means days, sometimes weeks, of achy joints, a sore throat and feverish chills that can cut into school or work. That hardship can oftentimes be avoided entirely, however, with a single, simple vaccine: the flu shot.

"Influenza is a highly contagious and serious illness that still causes deaths each year," says Scott W. Lindquist, MD, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases and deputy health officer for the State of Washington.

If you don't want to spend your winter laid out on the sofa with the flu, getting vaccinated is a must. The shot is fast, easy, effective and safe. Here's what Dr. Lindquist wants you to know before flu season begins:

You can help prevent the flu
The flu vaccine is your best protection against the virus. Every year, a panel of medical experts looks at flu data from around the world and, based on this data, decides what flu strains will be in the current year's vaccine.

There's no nasal spray this year
This year, nasal spray flu vaccines are not recommended in the United States. That's because the panel found "poor or relatively lower effectiveness" between 2013 and 2016. Vaccine effectiveness can vary widely from season to season. Don't worry, because there's still plenty of effective injectable flu vaccine.

Understand your risk
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people who get the flu will get better in a couple of weeks. Some can develop complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus or ear infections.

The following groups may get serious flu-related complications requiring hospitalization, so it's especially important they get the shot:

  • Children 5 or younger, and especially those younger than 2 years old
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • Pregnant women and those up to 2 weeks postpartum
  • Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives
  • People with asthma, chronic lung disease, diabetes, or heart disease

Do it now:
The flu vaccine can take up to 2 weeks to work. Get your flu shot as soon as it becomes available in your area.