The change in colors, the brisker mornings each day… Indeed, ‘tis the season for flu. Influenza – or “Flu” for short—is a family of viruses that cause infections with symptoms like fever, runny noses, coughing and congestion. Flu may be thought of as a nuisance by some, but in addition to inferring with school work/social plans for a few weeks, the flu is also a big contributor to hospitalizations and even mortality in the United States. October is the start of flu season, with peak flu months are in January and February. However, the flu season can extend even further than that each year. Getting a flu vaccine is an important way to reduce risk of influenza infections, so we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about why, how and when to get vaccinated.
Why are flu vaccines important?
We can think of flu vaccine as both important to you, as an individual, and for an entire population. If you get the vaccine, you reduce your own risk of contracting the flu. In addition, you also reduce your chances of transmitting the flu to others. Thus, in addition to reducing your own flu risk, you also help to reduce the number you could potentially infect, and by extension, help curb the possibility of a potential epidemic in a population.
When is it best to get vaccinated?
For seasonal flu vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated as soon as vaccine becomes available. And, for this flu season, flu vaccine is available now! So if you’ve decided to get the vaccine, try and get protected as early as possible. The idea is that you’d like to have flu protection before flu season is in full swing, so that it can reduce your likelihood of acquiring the flu after being exposed. The longer the flu season goes on, the more people with the flu, and the higher your chances are to be exposed. Keep in mind that there are lots of types of flu virus, and the ones in circulation change each flu season. As a result, each year’s seasonal flu vaccine is crafted to provide specific protection against the flu types in circulation each season. (This year’s flu vaccine provides protection against seasonal strains of vaccine and H1N1—the vaccine strain that caused widespread infection last year.) Additionally, immunity against flu from the vaccine is short-lived, and getting vaccinated each flu season is necessary to ensure your protection against flu. Keep in mind that if you get the vaccine this flu season, it does not mean you have protection against the flu next flu season.
How effective is it?
Vaccine effectiveness estimates vary somewhat depending on the vaccine being evaluated and the population under study, but previous studies have suggested an effectiveness range of 70-90%. Of course, since the vaccine formulation changes from year to year, vaccine effectiveness also changes from year to year. Keep in mind that although it’s possible that someone who has received the vaccine can still develop flu, it’s generally pretty unlikely. Also note that flu-like symptoms can be caused by things other than flu – most notably, parainfluenza, the common cold, pneumonia and more.
How long does it take after vaccination until I’m protected?
Typically, people are protected against the flu within about 2 weeks of vaccination.
Can I get the flu from the vaccine?
Nope. This is a common misconception. Flu vaccines have inactivated flu virus, so you can’t contract the virus from the vaccine itself. However, you can develop symptoms in reaction to the vaccine – such as soreness at the injection site, headache and low-grade fever.
Who should NOT get a flu vaccine?
The CDC provides recommendations on who should not get vaccinated for the flu. Here is a summary: those with an allergy to chicken eggs; those who’ve had a serious allergy to a flu vaccine in the past, or have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome as a result of the vaccine; children younger than 6 months; and those who currently have a moderate/severe illness with a fever (wait to get better before getting vaccinated). If you can’t get a flu vaccine, do what you can to protect yourself against flu, including covering your mouth/nose each time you cough or sneeze, wash your hands often with soap and water, and staying home when you are sick.
Where can I get the flu vaccine on campus?
Many places! Click here for a schedule of flu vaccination times on campus. You can schedule an appointment at many of the locations ahead of time. When you go, be sure to bring your student ID and an insurance card.
Can I get the flu vaccine off campus?
Yup. Google has a neat application that shows you flu vaccinations near you.