Winter is coming -- and the flu isn’t far behind. Influenza activity peaks in the winter months, which means that now is the time to get your flu vaccine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there have been anywhere from 9.2 million and 35.6 million cases of flu every year in the U.S. since 2010. While that seems like a big disparity, the exact number isn’t known because influenza isn’t designated as a reportable disease (and many people who contract it never even seek treatment). That said, the flu is not simply a bad head cold. Approximately 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations occur every year because of the flu, according to the CDC, and some Americans will lose their lives during the 2017-2018 flu season.
Want to protect yourself from the flu? Then the flu vaccine is your best option. Unfortunately, as any urgent care clinic or emergency department will tell you, there are a lot of myths that stop people from getting vaccinated in the first place. That's a shame, because you can receive this vaccine at virtually any pharmacy or urgent care clinic.
Keep reading for the answers to some frequently asked questions about the flu vaccine:
Although there are certain medications that can potentially decrease the severity and length of the flu once it’s contracted, no one should take that chance. At best, you’ll be out of commission for a week or so (and miss school or work in the process); at worst, you could be hospitalized or could even risk your life -- all because of the flu.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of the flu vaccine to go around. This season alone, U.S. vaccine manufacturers have estimated that they would provide between 151 million and 166 million doses of the vaccine. The CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine before the virus has started to spread in your community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for protective antibodies to develop, so early fall is usually the best time to get your shot. But even if you receive it later than that, it’s still better than not being vaccinated at all. It’s important to note that some children (six months to eight years of age) may require two doses of the vaccine in order to be protected.
The CDC does not recommend the nasal spray flu vaccine, as it’s been found to be ineffective. However, the injectible vaccine -- which is designed to protect against three or four of the most common virus strains in a given year -- has been found to be up to 60% effective among the overall population. And no, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine itself. The vaccine is made from dead viruses, which means it cannot infect you. The people who do come down with the flu soon after being vaccinated contracted the virus either before they got their shot or before their antibodies could build up. That said, some people do experience mild symptoms after receiving their flu shot, including fatigue, muscle aches, headache, nausea, and chills. Around 10% to 35% of children under the age of two may develop a fever within 24 hours of vaccination.
Still, these mild symptoms are far preferable to the flu itself. The vaccine is the best way to protect your family and everyone in your community from contracting this virus and the health complications that can stem from it. Seniors, children, pregnant women, and those with long-term health concerns or compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the flu, but the virus poses a risk to everyone. Don’t wait until the virus starts to spread before you think about protecting yourself and those you love. If you have not yet received your vaccination for the year, contact your doctor, urgent care clinic, pharmacy, school, or place of employment.
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