Photo of TAMHSC nurse giving a patient a flu shot.

Flu season has officially begun! The best way to protect yourself against the seasonal flu is to get a flu vaccination.

October is the scariest month of the year. It’s when horror movies start airing on late night TV, when Halloween decorations start to make their appearance and when seasonal flu begins its yearly rounds—plaguing the masses with fevers, coughs and sniffles.

“Flu season can start as early as October and last through May, depending on the climate of a particular region,” said Anna Brozick, Pharm.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy.

Aside from washing your hands, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly, getting vaccinated is your best form of protection against the flu. For the optimal level of protection, we sat down with Brozick to learn more about the five “W’s” of your annual vaccine:

Who should get vaccinated?

The answer to this question is simple: Everyone over six months of age should get vaccinated. Unless your physician has advised you not to, you should get vaccinated.

If you have an egg allergy, you might have heard rumors that you can have an allergic reaction to a vaccine. However, while the vaccine is cultivated using eggs, the chance of having an allergic reaction to a shot or another form of the vaccination is low.  “Just be sure to inform your primary care physician about your allergy,” Brozick advised. If for some reason your physician considers a regular-dose vaccine to be risky, there are some alternative forms of flu vaccinations.

What kind of vaccination should I get?

Maybe you didn’t know this, but there are actually three common forms of flu vaccines available to the public: A high-dose flu shot, a regular-dose flu shot and a nasal spray vaccine. In addition to these common forms, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the Flublok vaccine in 2013 for people with weaker immune systems and severe egg allergies.

  • High-dose shot: Recommended for people 65 years of age or older.
  • Regular-dose shot: Recommended for individuals six months or older. This is the most common form of the flu vaccine and the best option for most people, including those with egg allergies.
  • Nasal spray: This is a live attenuated vaccine and is available for people between the ages of two and 49.  Recent studies demonstrate the nasal vaccine is more effective at preventing the flu in children two to eight years old. The nasal spray vaccination is NOT for people with egg allergies, pregnant or weak immune systems and should not be used in children with sever asthma or who meet other specific criteria.
  • Flublok: An alternative form of vaccination recommended for people between the ages of 18 and 49, or for those who have severe egg allergies. This form of the vaccine does not use chicken eggs or the influenza virus in its manufacturing process.

When should I get vaccinated?

The earlier, the better: “A flu vaccine lasts for the duration of the flu season; for the best protection, people should get their vaccine as soon as it becomes available,” Brozick suggested.

If for some reason you can’t get your vaccine immediately, try to get it before December if possible. “December through February is the peak of the flu season. People should try to get vaccinated before then though,” Brozick explained.

If you’ve begun displaying symptoms of the flu, Brozick suggests that you seek immediate medical attention to receive prescription medication to decrease the length and severity of your symptoms. If it’s not the flu, then you can get vaccinated on the spot.

Where can I get my vaccine?

“Flu vaccines are offered in a number of places,” Brozick said. “You can get your vaccine at your local pharmacy or clinic, as well as at your physician’s office.”

When deciding where to get your vaccine, consider how much time you have and where you are most comfortable. If you usually get your annual physical around flu season, your doctor’s office might be the ideal place for you. Are you picking up a prescription refill? Why not stay a few additional minutes and have the pharmacist provide a flu vaccination.

Why should I get a vaccine?

It’s simple, really. “Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself from catching the flu,” Brozick explained.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the period from 1976 to 2007, flu-related deaths have reached up to 49,000 per year. Recent studies show that getting vaccinated was associated with a 71 percent reduction in hospitalizations for adults of all ages; and another study showed a 74 percent reduction rate among children.

The annual vaccine is updated every year with the strain of the flu that experts predict will be most prevalent. While it is still possible to contract the flu after getting a vaccine, the chances of it occurring are small. And no matter what you hear, you CANNOT get the flu from the flu vaccine!

Long story short: If you want to protect yourself against the flu, getting vaccinated is your best bet.

For more information on the flu vaccine, visit the CDC’s website.

— Elizabeth Grimm

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