Although no prevention method will guarantee you won’t get sick, getting a flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the nasty virus.
Why do I need a flu vaccine?
Because influenza (flu) viruses pass easily from person to person, they can cause many people to get sick. Even in best-case scenarios, getting the flu can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. You may have days or weeks of typical symptoms like fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion and headaches.
Sometimes, severe cases of flu can lead to possibly life-threatening complications like pneumonia, inflammation of the heart or brain, and organ failure. Some people have to be hospitalized and may even die from flu complications.
Children under two years of age, adults above 64 years of age, people with chronic diseases, and others with weak immune systems have the highest risk of developing complications. Some strains of the flu can cause even young-to-middle-aged, healthy adults to be hospitalized or die.
That’s why the CDC recommends that everyone six months of age or older get a flu vaccine every year.
How do the yearly flu vaccines work?
There are many different types of flu viruses, and—at least for now—there’s no way to protect yourself against all of them. So, scientists use data to make their best predictions about which three to four flu strains will be the most common in the upcoming flu season. That year’s flu vaccines work by targeting those strains. The effectiveness of the flu vaccine largely depends on how accurate the scientists’ predictions are.
When should I get vaccinated?
The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective, so you should get vaccinated as soon as flu vaccines become available each fall! This year, the CDC recommends that you get the vaccine before the end of October.
Flu vaccines contain antigens, or elements of flu viruses, that teach your body how to mount an immune response if a live flu virus ever invaded your system. This learning process takes about two weeks after vaccination.
What are the different types of flu vaccines?
Flu vaccines fall into many different categories. Here’s a rundown of how they’re administered, what’s in them, and what their potential side effects are.
Different routes of administration
Intramuscular (IM) injection
- Children two to 17 years old who are taking medications with aspirin or salicylates (for example, acetaminophen)
- Children two to four years old with asthma or wheezing in the past 12 months
- People with weakened immune systems or their caretakers
Most adults will receive the inactivated standard-dose trivalent flu shot unless you have an allergy, you request another option (quadrivalent, intradermal, or nasal spray), or it’s otherwise contraindicated. Standard-dose flu vaccines are typically effective enough for people younger than age 64.
The high-dose flu vaccine (Fluzone High-Dose) contains four times the amount of antigen as IM flu vaccines do. It can be helpful for older adults whose immune systems are weaker because it allows the body to build up a stronger immune response. It may even lower their risk of being hospitalized due to flu complications. For this reason, Fluzone High-Dose is only recommended for people over age 64.
Note: Since Fluzone High-Dose contains egg protein, no one with a severe egg allergy should get the high-dose flu vaccine.
Trivalent vs. quadrivalent flu vaccines
Flu vaccine allergens
- Egg protein. The egg-free flu vaccine, Flublok, is a safe option for people 18 years or older who have egg allergies and is comparable to other IM flu vaccines in terms of effectiveness and side effects. Since Flublok isn’t made using eggs, there’s no risk of an allergic reaction in people with egg allergies of any severity. Flucelvax is a flu vaccine that is made with less egg protein than others. However, people with severe egg allergies may prefer to opt for Flublok, the completely egg-free option.
- Antibiotics. Sometimes, drugmakers use antibiotics like neomycin, polymyxin, and kanamycin during the manufacturing process to prevent vaccines from becoming contaminated with bacteria. If you’re allergic to topical ointments like Neosporin, you may be allergic to these components. Anyone with an allergy to these antibiotics should choose a flu vaccine that does not contain them. See below for details.
- Latex. Latex is sometimes a component of flu vaccine packaging (for example, vials that contain natural rubber). If you have a latex allergy, avoid flu vaccines with latex in the packaging—Fluad, an IM flu shot, is one example, but some versions of the Fluvirin IM shot may also contain latex.
What brands of flu vaccines are available?
Here’s a summary of each flu vaccine available in the US. You can use a GoodRx coupon to save as much as 80% off the cash price.
Note: All the flu vaccines listed below are standard-dose vaccines except for the high-dose vaccine, Fluzone High-Dose.
Trivalent Flu Vaccines
Quadrivalent Flu Vaccines
Disclaimer: GoodRx prices are subject to change. We recommend checking GoodRx.com right before you get your flu vaccine to see the latest discounts.
Where can I get a flu vaccine?
Remember, there’s no way to guarantee you won’t get the flu, but getting a flu vaccine each year is the best way to protect yourself.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places where you can get a flu vaccine. In addition to your doctor’s office or local pharmacy, here are a few other places that offer flu vaccines:
- Medical clinics
- Health departments
- Workplaces, depending on the employer
- Urgent care clinics
- School or college health center
VaccineFinder is a convenient (and free!) online tool you can use to locate flu vaccines in your area. Once you type in your zip code, you can even see what types of vaccines are available at different locations nearby (though we’d still recommend calling before you go to make sure the vaccine you want is in stock).
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