Flu Shot: What You Need to Know and Where to Get the Vaccine

Staff WriterLast Updated Sep 15, 2020 11:41:52 AM ET
Two hands hold a half empty syringe and a small bottle of medicine CC0/PhotoLizM/Pixabay

Influenza is a lot more serious than many people realize, killing 80,000 individuals during the 2017 to 2018 flu season in the United States. Pregnant women and individuals with heart disease, respiratory conditions like asthma and HIV are all at greater risk of developing life-threatening complications from the flu. Getting a flu shot is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from this nasty disease. The good news is the flu shot is covered by most healthcare plans, so you typically pay nothing or very little.

CDC Guidelines for the Flu Shot

Per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone over the age of six months should get vaccinated. This recommendation was put in place in 2010 because it was determined that universal flu prevention needed to be extended to protect more people in the United States. The only people who shouldn't get a flu vaccine are babies younger than six months old and people with life-threatening allergies to the flu shot. Everyone else should get the vaccine every year. The CDC also recommends waiting no longer than the end of October to get your shot before the flu starts to spread around your community.

Types of Flu Shots

Flu shots come in a few forms. One type is the standard-dose trivalent flu shot, or II3. This type is administered with a needle to individuals five years old and older or with a jet injector to adults 18 to 64. The high-dose trivalent flu shot is for individuals 65 years of age and older. The other type of flu shot available is the quadrivalent flu shot.

What Are in Flu Shots?

Many people worry about getting a flu shot because they don't know if the shot contains a live virus. The shot form of the vaccine doesn't contain live virus, but the nasal spray does contain a weakened live form of the influenza virus. Flu vaccines contain a very small amount — 0.01 percent — mercury or thimerosal. Other ingredients in the vaccine include aluminum salts, formaldehyde, chicken egg proteins, antibiotics and gelatin.

Side Effects

There's a chance of becoming sick after the flu shot but not with the flu itself. Some people experience side effects, such as muscle aches, fever, nausea, headache and soreness at the injection site. These symptoms normally go away within a few days. If you have more serious side effects, such as swelling around the eyes or lips, difficulty breathing, wheezing, rapid heartbeat or weakness, you should seek medical care as soon as possible because you could be having an allergic reaction.

Where to Get a Flu Shot

Depending on your employer, you may be able to get a free flu shot. Your primary care physician can also give you a flu shot. Other places include urgent care centers, colleges, supermarkets, pharmacies, Walgreens, Target, CVS and Walmart. Some only administer the flu shot on specific days, so ask in advance.