Raise Your Flu IQ

Influenza season is almost upon us. Dana Corriel, MD, Director of Quality for Highland Medical, P.C., and board-certified internist at Pearl River Internal Medicine, answers questions about the flu shot, with the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Q: Who should get a flu shot?
A: Anyone 6 months and older, who is not severely allergic to the shot or its components (including eggs and gelatin), should get it. However, keep in mind that there are different types of vaccinations, with different indications for each.

Q: When should I get it?
A: Shots are available from mid-August. The ideal month to get vaccinated is October, because it’s closer in time to peak flu season. It is thought that protection can wane as time passes from vaccine administration.

 Q: How effective is it, and is it worth getting even if it’s not 100% effective?
A: Efficacy rates change from year to year. Considering that the flu has the potential to be lethal, it is prudent to get vaccinated. I tell patients that some protection is better than no protection.

Q: Is there a different flu shot for kids?
A: There are inhaled versions of the flu shot (with a weak, live flu virus) which are acceptable for vaccination use some years. The CDC has determined that this method will be effective this year. Speak to your pediatrician about these options, as there are some contraindications.

 Q: Do older adults get a different flu shot, and what’s the age range for that?
A: Anyone over the age of 65 should be getting the high-dose flu vaccine, which gives added protection.

Q:  Should I ask whether I’m getting a flu shot with three flu strains or four—and how much of a difference does it make?
A: Quadrivalent vaccine (four strains) offers additional protection, so I’d recommend that one if you have the choice. The CDC recommends either one.

Q: I’ve heard getting a flu shot can actually make me sick—is that true?
A: No. There are side effects that are possible after getting the flu, but they are rare and typically mild in nature. The most common side effect is experiencing cold-like symptoms, which happens as your body revs up, preparing antibodies against the flu (the virus injected is ‘inactivated’, or dead, but stimulates our immune system). It’s like a dress rehearsal. Your body is preparing for the ‘real performance, so that, if the flu actually hits, your immune system is prepared and ready to go.

Q: Anything else that you want to tell people about the flu shot this year?
A: Come in anytime to get the vaccine. We want everyone in the area protected. If you are at all on the fence, please come in for a discussion.

Please remember that getting vaccinated is not just about protecting yourself, but about protecting those around you in the community who have weak immune systems and may not be able to fight off the flu as well as healthy individuals do (like the younger and older generations). We must do our part to protect them, too.