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Flu Shots 101

By

Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Flu Shots
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Who Should Get a Seasonal Flu Shot:

Anyone at risk for the flu should have a flu shot. For seasonal flu, this includes:

  • Children ages 6 months to 18 years
  • Adults over age 50
  • People living in a long term care facility
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People with frequent exposure to the general public (health care workers, emergency personnel, etc.)
  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone with a chronic medical condition
  • Caregivers or family members in close contact with high risk individuals

The CDC now recommends flu vaccines for everyone over the age of 6 months old.

Who Should NOT Get a Flu Shot:

The flu vaccine is not right for everyone. You should not get a flu shot if you have:

  • Fever or moderate to severe illness at the time of vaccination
  • History of Guillain-Barre syndrome after previous flu vaccinations
  • Previous alllergic reaction to a flu shot
  • Infants under 6 months old

** If you have an egg allergy, talk to your health care provider about whether or not the flu shot is right for you. Egg allergies used to be a reason to avoid flu shots, but recent research has indicated that even people with severe egg allergies may be able to safely get the flu vaccine under proper supervision. Do not get the vaccine at a walk in clinic if you have an egg allergy, be sure to do so at your health care provider or allergist's office. There are even some flu vaccines available now that are not grown in eggs at all, so the threat of a reaction for people with egg allergies is removed completely.

Read more about Egg Allergies and the Flu Shot.

Availability:

Seasonal flu shots generally become available in the fall, between September and November. If you are at high risk for the flu, you should get your vaccine as soon as they are available.

When You Should Get It:

You should get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available if you are at high risk for the flu, although December and even later is not too late to get one. The vaccine takes two weeks to become effective after it is given.

How Often Do I Need One:

The seasonal flu vaccine is different every year because the formula is changed based on what experts believe are the strains most likely to cause illness the following season. Therefore, it is important to get a flu shot every year.

Learn more about how flu shots work.

Where to Find Flu Shots:

There are many options when you are trying to figure out where to find a flu shot. The best place to receive your flu shot is at your doctor's office if you have significant health issues. Your doctor should know your medical history and will know if there is any reason you should not have a flu vaccine. Flu shots may also be available at:

  • Pharmacies
  • Walk in clinics
  • Grocery store clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Local Health Department
  • Check your local newspaper or the Flu Clinic Locator for flu shot clinics around your city

Administration:

The flu vaccine is generally given as a shot in the upper arm or thigh (in children). It is also available as a nasal spray vaccine, but the inhaled form is not for use by children under 2 years old, adults over 49, people with weakened immune systems, or people with asthma.

Beginning in 2011, the Fluzone Intradermal Flu Vaccine is available and is administered using a much smaller needle than the traditional flu shot.

There are many flu vaccine options now, but we can help you figure out which one is right for you and your family.

Side Effects:

Most side effects are minor. Some of the more common side effects include:

  • Low grade fever
  • Soreness at injection site
  • Decreased energy

If you experience any:

  • Severe swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Numbness

Contact your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room, these are signs of allergy or serious complications and could be fatal.

 

 

Sources:

"Key Facts About Influenza(Flu) Vaccine." Influenza (Flu). 16OCT2006. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 16 Nov 2006.

Bren, Linda. "Influenza: Vaccination Still the Best Protection." FDA Consumer Magazine. Sep2006. US Food and Drug Administration. 16 Nov 2006.

"Q&A: 2009 H1N1 Influenza Vaccine." H1N1 Flu 16 Oct 09. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 19 Oct 09.

 

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