Time to get your flu shot

It’s time to start thinking about getting your flu shot for this year.

The flu vaccine is available in some locations sites now, and will be available at most other places in a few weeks.

Remember that it takes a few weeks to build an antibody response to the antigens in the flu vaccine. You’re not immediately protected against the flu as soon as you are injected. So it’s preferable to get it before cases of the flu start popping up around you.

Most cases of flu usually occur in January and February (in the US). But a number of cases often start occurring in October, so getting vaccinated early is a good idea. Waiting puts you higher risk of getting exposed to the flu and not having a prepared immune system.

Flu shot via Shutterstock

Flu shot via Shutterstock

Remember, that if you wait, and this year’s flu outbreak is serious, there may not be vaccine available when you want it. Manufacturers usually make about 150,000,000-180,000,000 doses of the vaccine each year. So vaccine supplies may be exhausted later in the flu season.

The vaccine is manufactured to protect against three (trivalent) of four (tetravalent) different strains of the flu virus. The CDC and other groups, try to predict which strain(s) will be the most prevalent ones in a given year. But it’s impossible to predict which strain will be the one that causes the most illnesses.

Also, a percentage of patients may not make enough antibodies to protect them against flu. It makes sense to further protect yourself by doing things like washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, avoiding sick people, etc.

Also, if you do get the flu, try to avoid spreading it to others. The elderly, immunocompromised babies and other groups can develop serious complications from flu that could result in death.

You can locate sites where you can get needed vaccine injections (not just flu vaccine) on this map.

Be sure to check out some our earlier coverage about flu vaccines, including evidence that a flu shot could help reduce your chances of having cardiovascular problems, lots of evidence that vaccines don’t cause autism, and more on how anti-vaccine “truthers” have helped bring back whooping cough and measles.

Get your flu shot.


Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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  • CarolWJohnson

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  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Two in depth reports… one about how the shingles virus is acquired, and another with the list of ingredients in influenza vaccines. Neither of which correlate, or even mention each other for some reason. Anecdotal evidence that some people happened to get shingles after they got a flu vaccine is out there. But no matter how you twist it, the flu vaccine is not going to give you shingles. If you got shingles, you already had the virus. Probably for many years. Nobody is exactly sure yet why it reactivates, but changes in your immune system cause it, especially in older people. If there was a statistically significant cause and effect, there would be a massive epidemic of shingles every flu season, because millions of people get the flu vaccine. There should be more study on how vaccines impact the way the immune system keeps existing infections in check, maybe they will find some link in the way the flu vaccine activates the immune system some day. But considering how few cases, it probably won’t ever be a high priority for researchers.

  • lbhajdu1 .

    When you say “flu shot has absolutely nothing to do with the shingles virus” is this based on a study? For years hygiene was not believed to be associated with infection until they found out about bacteria.

  • lbhajdu1 .

    It’s a 1.7 percentage chance vs placebo.
    Antivirals are evidence-based medicine.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    A link to a self-aggrandizing ‘alternative treatment’ pusher, who has been singled out by healthcare fraud watchdog groups for advocating against evidence-based medicine in favor of the untested and unproven herbal and vitamin concoctions he’s paid to hawk. Accusing every doctor of somehow being part of the vaccination conspiracy is the parroting, not the decisions doctors have to make in practice with people’s lives every day. Your suggestion that the CDC is the source of the problem kinda falls apart when medical agencies all around the world, many much less corporate than ours, start to agree on a point.

    As with any vaccine, you still have a chance of getting the associated disease. With acquired infections you’re chances of getting it are naturally lower, because you simply may not come into contact with the virus, or not enough of it to become an infection. But for something like shingles, the virus is already in you at the time of vaccination. So the goal of vaccination is slightly different, needing to prevent a disease you already have from becoming symptomatic. Thus, the efficacy of the vaccine is lowered. Still, a ~50% reduction in chance of an outbreak, with a ~60% less chance of severe complications like postherpetic neuralgia is nothing to sneeze at. But one should discuss it with their doctor, and weigh the risks. Most people I know who have had shingles describe it as the most agonizing thing they’ve ever gone through. What would you do to have a 50/50 shot at avoiding the most agonizing thing you’ve ever gone through?

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    I did use the Google. The only thing pertinent at all is a known correlation between prenatal exposure to many preventable infections, like influenza and rubella, to a potential increased risk for schizophrenia. This was studied five or six years ago, and because infection is the risk, the CDC continues to recommend vaccination as the best way to mitigate it.

    If you have some other “new” and “alarming” study, not written by a conspiracy theorist fear-monger, I’d love to read it. I have a completely open mind on the subject. I think there are innumerable things about the immune system response and development that we don’t understand fully, and scientific studies need to continue without people intentionally misinterpreting their results and then other people carelessly parroting it. But until I see serious science recommending against vaccinations, I’m going to continue to advocate for them. They have saved countless lives, and will save countless more.

  • lbhajdu1 .

    What happened to “Google is your friend.” ?

  • lbhajdu1 .

    Shingles outbreaks happen as the immune system wanes. Getting shot-up with flu vaccine adjuvants is most likely the stress that brought it on. They also make a vaccine for shingles but in a placebo group, 3.3 percent of the study participants developed
    shingles, compared to 1.6 percent in the vaccine group. Yes, that’s a 50
    percent difference, but the real, absolute risk reduction is just 1.7
    percentage points.

    The link is here:
    http://www.drwhitaker.com/just-say-no-to-the-shingles-vaccination

    It contains 14 times more of the weakened chickenpox virus then the regular chickenpox vaccine. And has a fair number of side-effects. Hopefully you have learned your lesson about vaccine recommendations. These recommendations come from the manufactures themselves who sit on the board of the CDC (research conflicts of interest). Your doctor just parrots them. The manufactures primary responsibility is to there stockholders, as they themselves keep repeating in court.

    Antiviral medicine will help.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    There is new evidence stating that during the warmer months, bright pink birds fly out of elephants’ asses. This is very alarming!

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Conjecture isn’t very alarming… but I’ll let you know once I read through all the scientific studies you provided as evidence of your claim.

  • lbhajdu1 .

    There is now new evidence linking vaccines containing neurotoxin mercury to development of schizophrenia in later life. This is very alarming!

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    No, he didn’t. He was recorded without his knowledge, then his remarks were heavily edited and paraphrased by the guy who did the recording to intentionally misrepresent what he said. Google is your friend.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    The flu shot has absolutely nothing to do with the shingles virus – which is from the same virus that causes chicken pox. Anyone who has had chicken pox in the past has the virus dormant in their nervous system, and it can re-emerge as shingles later in life. You can also get shingles more than once. Which is why the CDC recommends anyone 60 years of age or older also get the shingles vaccine. You should talk to your doctor about the postherpetic neuralgia, there are a few options that might help.

  • wasabi

    I am 60. Lucky me – I’ve never had the flu but on the advice of my PCP I got my first flu shot last September. Within 10 days of getting the shot I was diagnosed with Shingles. I’ve suffered with lingering nerve pain since that time. Coincidence? Maybe – but I won’t be getting a flu shot this year.

  • lbhajdu1 .

    I’m not getting one. I have been injured by a vaccine I got when I was 2 years old and effects are still with me now that I am 34. Plus the researcher that actually did the CDC’s autism study (Dr. William Thompson) actually says he found a link and was asked to cover it up because it’s not what they want to tell the public.

  • Tatts

    Two lessons in that: 1. get a flu shot, 2. get smarter friends.

  • Tatts

    I’ve seen signs recently outside both CVS and Walgreens here in Philadelphia advertising flu shots. It’s summertime, and I really thought they were old signs left up from last season until I started seeing more of them.

    Ugh. Summer’s over. There’ll be Xmas decorations in the stores in a few weeks.

    But I had a serious, serious bout of flu about 12 years ago, and I learned my lesson–get a flu shot!

  • nicho

    Yup

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    No sense of irony at all that the flu can result in pneumonia, and is pretty much what makes getting the flu so potentially dangerous in the first place.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    In my family, many of my ancestors die due to heart disease or the various cancers brought on by tobacco use. But I remember one great-grandmother who didn’t partake of cigarettes, and who lived a pretty clean and active life. We used to joke about how in her volunteering at the local senior center, she was often taking care of men and women young enough to be her own children.

    Then one year in the mid 1970s, when she was 85, she caught the flu. And it killed her. And the heartbreak just about (metaphorically) killed her daughter, my grandmother, as they’d been all but inseparable for decades. The woman was never the same again, and the extended family holiday gatherings — for which she and her mother used to cook amazing feasts — also came to an end. When asked about it, my grandmother just said she couldn’t bear to be alone in the kitchen.

    Get the damned shot. Yeah, you may feel a little funny for a day or so afterwards. That’s your immune system waking up and doing what it was designed to do.

  • nicho

    I have a friend who refuses to get the flu shot. He claims it will give him the flu. Every year, he gets the flu, but insists it’s something else. A couple of years ago, he had a really serious case. When I pointed out to him that he had gotten the flu — something the flu shot would have prevented — he argued, “No. I didn’t have the flu. I had pneumonia.” Duh!

    Get the damn flu shot.

  • therling

    My father grew up without a father because of the 1918 flu epidemic, which also left his mother with 5 children and a farm to keep up, which in those days required much more labor. I get my flu shot every year.

  • HeartlandLiberal

    We are both 68. We never fail to get the flu shots.

    And we are ecstatic that part of the Medicare wellness annual checkups, aside from monitoring if we are showing signs of failing mental capacity, is that whether or not we have had available vaccinations has been taken care of. This has included vaccines to help prevent shingles and pneumonia, and the fact we needed a tetanus booster. And, because we both smoked when very young, we had covered ultrasounds of the major artery system that traverses the chest into the abdominal area, to insure we were not candidate for aneurysm.

    Preventive care like this is so logical, and the consequences of not doing it, or ignoring symptoms and not seeing a doctor, just leads to illness, premature death, and far greater costs financially to the individual and society.

    Let me take this moment to also denounce those who continue to buy the totally disproven assertions that childhood vaccinations cause autism.

    Please, as someone who did NOT get polio, the first generation of youngsters to be immunized against that threat, let me just point out how bat sh*t crazy the anti-vacciners are at this point.

  • bkmn

    The only year I didn’t get a flu shot I got the flu, on my birthday. Woke at 3am with the bedding fully saturated with sweat and felt like crap for a week. I will never miss a flu shot again.

    If you do any sort of traveling it is very important to get a flu shot. Airports are great places to be exposed to people who have been to other parts of the world with different germs and viruses than you might be accustomed to/immune to.

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