Your Top 10 Flu Shot Questions Answered

Family with a cold

Whether you find yourself headed into the office or working from home this flu season, many of the same questions regarding flu shots arise – how effective is the flu shot and who should get it?  With new complexities surrounding the flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots – do I need both the flu shot and vaccine booster and, if so, can I get them at the same time? 

To make sure all our fellow Vermonters are equipped with the information you need to stay healthy, we sat down with Dr. Joshua Plavin, our chief medical officer, to get answers to your top flu vaccine questions.

Top 10 Flu Shot Questions:

While the flu viruses can be detected year-round, we see spikes in the fall and winter months and therefore refer to these months as ‘flu season’. The exact timeframe is different year-over-year, though it’s common to see increased cases beginning in October and continuing as late as May, with peaks between December and February. 

The length of time that the flu vaccine provides protection against the flu depends on the individual, though it lasts between four to six months for many. With cases starting to rise as early as October, it’s best to get your flu shot when flu vaccination clinics are available and widespread in October. However, if you’re not able to get vaccinated until November or later, it’s still highly recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many medical professionals as the most common peaks occur between December and February with activity continuing into May.

No, the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. While you can’t get the flu from the vaccine, some people report mild side effects.

Some people report mild side effects after receiving the flu vaccination. The most common are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Other side effects could include a low-grade fever, headache, or muscle aches. 

For the nasal mist flu vaccine, some reported side effects include nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and cough. Side effects are generally mild and last one to two days, while the flu can be severe and last up to two weeks.

According to the CDC, a flu shot reduces your risk of catching the flu by 40-60%. Varying effectiveness is seen due to two primary factors. The first is the characteristics of the person including age and general health. The second is how well the vaccine matches the flu viruses that are spreading in any given community.

If you do catch the flu after getting your shot, your symptoms should be milder than they would have been without the vaccine.

To protect our health care resources
The possibility of overwhelming our health care system has been a concern since the pandemic began. Flu season significantly adds to that concern. Both the flu and COVID-19 can have similar symptoms. Both viruses can also cause lung issues and other serious health problems that may require hospitalization. Getting your flu shot significantly lowers your chance of needing flu-related testing or hospital care.

To protect our loved ones, neighbors, and communities
When it comes to preventing infection, it’s not just about you! “When I get vaccinated for the flu, I’m doing more than protecting myself,” says Dr. Plavin. “I’m also protecting my kids, older Vermonters, pregnant people—all those who are at high risk of complications and death. I get vaccinated to protect others just like I wear a mask to protect others.”

Flu shots are generally free under most health care plans, and always free for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont members. It’s important to remember that while the flu shot itself is free, you may owe deductible, co-payment, or co-insurance for visits to your doctor’s office. 

Getting a flu shot is a good idea every year. This year, because of the continued threat of COVID-19, every Vermonter should make the flu shot a top priority. 

“It is extremely important for Vermonters to get a flu shot this year,” says Dr. Plavin. “The physical safety measures we’re all taking to protect against COVID-19 will help to slow down the spread of the flu, but the flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent flu-related illness.”

Everyone ages six months and older should get the flu shot every season. Your doctor can tell you if you fit into one of the very rare exceptions.

The CDC shared that the COVID-19 vaccine may be given without regard to the timing of any other vaccine. Therefore, the COVID-19 vaccine can be given at the same time as a flu vaccine, or any other routine vaccine. It can also be given on a different day without any waiting period. 

You can get a booster shot for COVID-19 at the same time as you get a flu shot, or the day before, or the day after, or at any other time. 

Still have questions about the flu vaccine? We’ve gathered some additional resources that may be helpful:

Don’t wait! You can schedule your flu shot today by contacting your doctor’s office, a local pharmacy, or a major grocery store chain.

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