Do You Need a Flu Shot?

There’s tons of suspicion out there when it comes to vaccines, from worries that they will infect recipients with the very diseases they are meant to inoculate against, to concerns that they cause autism in children. But there’s one vaccine that all medical workers agree on as a necessity for certain high-risk groups: the flu shot. In any given year, your chances of catching this nasty bug range from 1 in 20 to 1 in 5. And it lands more than 200,000 people in hospital bed—and kills about 36,000 folks. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.

How Does It Work?
What we call the flu shot is an inactivated vaccine that contains three killed influenza viruses. (So those of you who swear the shot gives you the flu, it’s impossible!) It changes from year to year, as scientists predict which strains will wreck havoc on our immune systems this season. It takes two weeks to kick in, but getting the shot prompts your body to create antibodies that it will use to fight off the virus when your coworker’s sick kid leaves his germies all over your office.

Who Needs It & When?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should get the shot ASAP if you’re pregnant or have a chronic medical condition (like diabetes or asthma). Ditto if you’re a healthcare or childcare worker, or live with children under the age of 19, someone 50 years of age or older, or someone with a chronic disease. Fall into one of those groups? Though the season tends to peek in January, people start getting sick around October, so get the shot as soon as it’s offered in your area (generally in September). And if it’s not a year when vaccinations are in short supply, you can even get the shot if you’re just worried about being stuck on the couch for a week.

Who Shouldn’t Get It
Skip it if you have a severe chicken egg allergy, have had a horrible reaction to the shot before, or have ever developed Guillain-Barré within 6 weeks of being vaccinated. And if you have a moderate to severe infection with a fever, wait until you’re feeling better before you get it.

How to Get It
Schedule a visit with your primary care physician for your shot in the arm; nearly all insurance plans cover them. Or you can check with your state Board of Health or use the American Lung Association’s Flu Clinic Locator at [] to find a free or low-cost vaccination site near you.

—Kenrya Rankin Naasel