An Early FLU Shot is Better than No Shot At All!

The flu, short for influenza, is a respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus. Some common symptoms are fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches and fatigue.

The seasonal flu shot is a vaccine taken to protect against the flu every year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu shots are recommended for all Americans over the age of 6.

Who should get the flu shot?

The CDC recommends it for anyone over the age of 6 months, with rare exceptions (see below). Dr. Priya Nori, an Infectious Disease specialist states, “since the most widely available influenza vaccine is an inactivated vaccine (meaning that it cannot actually transmit the flu as an inactivated particle), almost everyone is eligible.”

Those who can safely tolerate the vaccine, include:

  • Healthy children ≥ 6 months
  • Children ≥ 6 months with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, type I DM, chronic immune deficiencies, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, leukemias, etc.
  • Adults with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, COPD, DM, malignancy, kidney failure, liver failure, HIV, organ transplant, asplenia, etc.
  • Pregnant and post-partum females
  • Elderly individuals
  • Even people with a range of egg allergies (such as hives) can safely tolerate the routine influenza vaccination (usually made in egg-based culture) because the rate of allergic reaction is very low

A recent CDC study found that the rate of life-threatening allergy is extremely rare, “at 1.31 per one million vaccine doses given,” Dr. Nori reports.

What’s new about the flu shot in 2016-2017?

  • This year, the CDC and professional medical societies no longer support use of the intranasal influenza vaccine based on data showing poor effectiveness and poor immune response. Dr. Nori states, “this type of vaccine was previously very popular among children, who will now have to receive the shot like their parents.”
  • Egg allergies (Not an Issue)
    • Most commercially available influenza vaccines are cultured in eggs. Based on data showing an extremely low incidence of side effects, even those with severe egg allergies can safely receive routine vaccines according to the updated CDC recommendation.
  • This year, the quadrivalent influenza vaccine is widely available, providing protection against 2 circulating strains of influenza A (H3N2, H1N1) and 2 strains of influenza B.

Who should not get the flu shot?

  • There is an influenza vaccine available for almost everyone
  • Individuals who have ever suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) should first talk to their healthcare provider
  • “Individuals actively ill with flu-like symptoms, such as fevers, chills, and body aches can still receive the flu vaccine once they have recovered,” states Dr. Nori.

When is the best time to get the flu shot?

  • The flu season usually hits sometime in the fall, peaks in the really cold winter months, and usually runs its course by the spring.
  • Therefore, the best time to be vaccinated is in the fall before the end of October.
  • Consider that it takes up to 2 weeks to develop an antibody response to the flu shot, so timing of the vaccine is key. You want to be armed and protected before the onset of the season, which might be any time now.
  • If you travel for business or leisure to temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere, know that influenza activity is high from April to September.
  • In the tropics, influenza season occurs throughout the year. Talk to your healthcare provider about vaccines you might need before travel, including influenza.

Can the shot make me sick from the flu?

  • The influenza vaccine contains an inactivated flu particle to stimulate the production of anti-influenza antibodies
  • Because it is not alive, it will not “give you the flu.”
  • Expected side effects
    • low-grade temperature up to 99-100F
    • body aches
    • fatigue
    • runny or stuffy nose
  • Some people have no side effects, or just some soreness at the injection site.

Thank you to our medical contributor

Priya Nori, MD

Medical Director, Antimicrobial Stewardship Program

Montefiore Health System

Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

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