Everything You Need to Know about the Flu Vaccine

By: Miriam Stock  |  December 1, 2016


The flu vaccine protects against a seasonal strain of influenza. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that infects the nose, throat and lungs. It’s most commonly spread by the transfer of fluids from one person to another through coughing, sneezing or talking. It is recommended that everyone six months and older s get a flu vaccination by the end of October each year. It’s currently November, and if you still haven’t gotten vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still recommends that people receive vaccinations through as late as January.

The CDC estimates that the flu vaccine prevented approximately 79,000 flu hospitalizations and 6.6 million flu-associated illnesses in the 2012-13 influenza season. When a person receives the flu vaccine, his body develops antibodies against the flu within two weeks of vaccination. The most common delivery of the flu vaccination is by needle injection. In previous years, a nasal vaccination was available, but it is not recommended by the CDC for this flu season. The injectable vaccine is either made using inactive viruses or no flu viruses at all.

You may be wondering whether or not you need to get the flu shot again this year if you got it last year. You most certainly do! This is because the seasonal strain of influenza changes from year to year and the flu shot is adjusted accordingly. Additionally, immunity declines over time, so an annual flu shot ensures that you have the antibodies necessary to protect against the virus.

The most common misconception about the flu vaccine is that it is ineffective and people who have been vaccinated often develop the flu anyway. The CDC cites several possibilities as to why this is untrue. Firstly, the flu vaccine only protects against influenza. During flu season, a person may develop one of the many other respiratory viruses with flu-like symptoms. It is very likely that a person may look like she has the flu, when it fact she has a different respiratory virus. Secondly, since it takes up to two weeks following the vaccination for a person to develop antibodies against the flu, it is possible that a person was exposed to the virus before the vaccination had time to take effect. Thirdly, there are many different strains of influenza and the vaccine cannot protect against all of them.

Allergic to eggs? I’m sure you’ve been told in the past to avoid the flu shot for fear of an allergic reaction. Good news! After further research, the CDC now actually recommends that people with egg allergies should get the 2016-2017 flu vaccine, with the caveat that this should be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider and that the person should be monitored for thirty minutes post-injection.

If you’re concerned about side effects of vaccination, the worst you’re likely to experience is mild soreness at the injection site, a low grade fever or possibly generalized aches. These mild side effects notwithstanding, the chance of serious symptoms is extremely low. So make sure to stop by your local drugstore to get your 2016-2017 flu shot as soon as possible!