The 2022-23 flu season is heating up across the country, just in time for the holidays. Getting a flu vaccine can help you and your loved ones stay healthy.
Every year in the United States, influenza (flu) causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and tens of thousands of deaths — even among healthy children and adults. Everyone is at risk from flu, but young children, pregnant people, older adults, communities of color, and people with chronic medical conditions (e.g., diabetes, asthma) are particularly vulnerable to flu-related complications.
Not just a bad cold
In 2022, flu activity and spread started earlier in the year, and might continue to spread during the winter months. Contrary to popular belief, flu is not just a bad cold. Flu is an entirely different kind of virus. Although we see “cold and flu” products at the pharmacy, flu can be really serious.
The best way to help protect yourself and your loved ones is with an annual flu vaccine. Annual flu vaccines are updated every year to help protect against circulating strains. So even if you had a flu vaccine last year, you still need one this season. Everyone 6 months and older needs a flu vaccine every year.
If you’re 65 years of age or older, it is now recommended that you receive a high-dose, adjuvanted, or recombinant flu vaccine, all of which have been shown to provide better protection for older adults. A healthcare provider can help you decide which flu vaccine is right for you.
How to get a flu shot
Getting a flu vaccine can be free, quick, and easy. These vaccines are available at doctors’ offices, pharmacies, clinics, local health departments, schools, and grocery stores. The best time to get a flu shot is now!
It takes your body about two weeks to gain protection following vaccination, so plan on getting a flu shot before you visit your loved ones this holiday season to avoid spreading germs along with your holiday cheer. And if you’re already planning on getting a COVID-19 vaccine, you can safely get your flu vaccine at the same time. And yes, you need both — one does not protect against the other.
How the vaccine works
A common misconception about flu shots is that they can give you the flu. That’s not possible and here’s why: Flu shots teach our bodies to fight off flu, but they don’t contain live viruses that can reproduce and cause infection. Some people may experience common side effects following vaccination, like a headache or mild body aches, but that’s actually your immune system responding to the vaccine and creating antibodies.
Symptoms of an actual flu infection can feel much worse, lasting days and even weeks. Nobody wants to miss out on holiday fun with family and friends because they’re stuck at home with the flu.
Get vaccinated this holiday season
There is no substitute for annual flu vaccination. Eating healthy and exercising can contribute to overall health, but even strong, healthy people can get really sick with flu. Sadly, I lost my healthy 5-year-old son to flu and my story is not unique — each year, more than 52,000 people lose a loved one to flu. Our stories illustrate that flu does not discriminate; we’re all at risk regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, health status, or lifestyle.
Finally, if you do get sick with flu, stay home to avoid infecting others, and get tested if you’re not sure if it’s COVID-19, flu, or something else. If it is flu, seek medical attention if needed, because antiviral medications can be given within the first 48 hours of your illness that may lessen the length and severity of your flu symptoms.
To learn more about flu, flu vaccination, and to read stories of people like me who’ve been impacted by flu, visit www.vaccinateyourfamily.org.