Last year’s influenza (flu) season caused a near-record number of illnesses and deaths. A vaccine that was not as effective as previous years’ vaccines compounded the severity of last flu season. Don’t take chances with your health this year. Get your flu shot or nasal vaccine in the next couple of weeks so you will be fully protected before flu season starts. Make sure everyone in your family over the age of six months is also vaccinated.

Why now?

Now is a good time to get flu shots because the vaccines are available in good supply. Now is also a good time because it takes at least two weeks for your body to build up the protective antibodies. The shot starts your immune system working on building defenses (antibodies) against most flu viruses. A flu vaccine will fully protect you through the traditional end of flu season in March. After six months, the antibodies produced by a flu vaccine start to decline.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the H3N2 flu strain that caused so much illness and death last year continues to circulate. CDC says this year’s vaccine was designed to be much more effective against it.  Each year’s flu vaccine is designed to protect against three to four viruses that are most likely to cause flu.

Please don’t use that old excuse that a flu shot makes you sick. It is impossible to get the flu from a flu vaccine. Some people do have a bit of tenderness at the shot site, but this is short-lived.

Why you?

Only about half of Americans get a flu shot. If you think you don’t need a flu shot, consider this:

  • Flu kills 3,000 to 50,000 Americans each year.
  • Flu causes 100,000 to 500,000 hospitalizations each year.
  • Flu viruses change almost every year. That’s why annual flu vaccines are essential for continuous protection.
  • Flu is highly contagious. Even perfectly healthy people with strong immune systems can get it. You could also infect family members and co-workers. Why take the risk?
  • Flu can cause dangerous complications, including death.
  • Those most at risk for flu and its complications are children, pregnant women and older people. People with heart, lung or kidney disease, or who have diabetes or asthma are also at high risk. Your flu shot can help protect them. That’s why 90 percent of doctors and nurses get an annual flu shot.
  • Last year the rate of flu-related hospitalization among people 65 years of age or older was the highest on record. Children were also hit hard last year with 145 lab-confirmed flu deaths in children. The CDC says that flu likely kills many more children than the number confirmed by lab tests.
  • All pregnant women should get a flu shot and it is safe at any stage of pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Flu is especially dangerous for pregnant women because they are more susceptible to severe complications and flu can cause premature labor.
  • Flu shots are safe for women who have just given birth or who are breastfeeding. The shot protects the baby for the first six months until he or she can be vaccinated.

Kids need a flu shot!

If your child gets the flu, he or she will miss school, feel terrible for up to two weeks, could develop complications that require hospitalization, or even die. Why would any parent take such a dangerous risk? More than 90 percent of children treated for flu in intensive care units last year had not received a flu shot. About half of children who died from flu and its complications were perfectly healthy before getting flu.

Children have a higher rate of inflection from flu than adults do. Flu complications in children include viral or bacterial pneumonia, bacteremia, ear infections, breathing complications, seizures, swelling of the brain, prolonged hospitalization and death.

Very young children, especially those who have never been vaccinated and are between six months to eight years of age, should have two initial doses of vaccine to build immunity. Most healthy children ages 2 to 8 can use the nasal spray vaccine (LAIV). Evidence shows it may work better than the shot in younger children. The nasal spray should not be used with children who have egg allergy, asthma, diabetes, heart or kidney disease or who have taken antiviral medications within two days of getting a vaccination, according to the CDC. The CDC has cautioned parents to go ahead with a flu shot if the nasal spray in not available.

Take precautions

You should not get a flu shot if you have:

  • An egg allergy or allergy to any other ingredients in the shot (ask your doctor about getting a special flu vaccine for those allergic to eggs).
  • A moderate-to-severe illness; delay the shot until you are fully recovered.
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome; talk with your doctor before getting a vaccine.
  • Pregnant women should not be given a nasal spray vaccine.

Free vaccines

Most private insurance, Medicaid and Arkansas’ Private Option (Medicaid expansion) will pay for an annual flu shot. If you’re on Medicare, the shot is free if your provider accepts Medicare as payment in full.

Flu vaccines are available just about anywhere there are medical professionals – doctor’s offices, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, health departments, urgent care centers and some schools and workplaces.