Why Flu Vaccination Matters

The flu, or influenza, leaves most people feeling miserable for a few to several days. 

But the flu can have far more serious consequences for people in certain high-risk groups. For them it can lead to hospitalization and, in extreme cases, even death.

Those most at risk:

  • Children under 5, particularly infants and toddlers up to age 2
  • Adults 65 and older
  • People with a weakened immune system and certain chronic health conditions (see examples at the end of this article)
  • Pregnant women and women up to two weeks after delivery
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
“A flu shot will protect you through the whole flu season, which picks up in October and can extend into May. January and February is when we see the worst cases.”

People in high-risk groups are more likely to develop complications from the flu. These include pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections. The flu can aggravate chronic health conditions. For someone with asthma, it could trigger an attack. And if you have a condition like chronic congestive heart failure or COPD (congestive obstructive pulmonary disease), flu could send you to the hospital.

Who Should Be Vaccinated?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months and older be vaccinated against flu, even if you’re not in a high-risk group. 

Here’s why:

  • When vaccinated, you’re less likely to expose others to the flu virus, including those in the high-risk groups. 
  • A vaccination will lessen your chance of getting the flu. Yes, lessen. There are few guarantees in life, including that you won’t get the flu after being vaccinated. But a vaccination may ease your symptoms if you do get sick. 

In short, when you get a flu shot, you’re doing yourself, your family, co-workers and others a favor.

When Should You Be Vaccinated?

“The best time to get a flu shot, which is the best treatment ever for the flu, is as soon as it’s available — usually sometime in August,” explains Joshua Ordway, MD, of Franklin Family Practice. 

But if you haven’t been vaccinated by the end of fall, don’t worry. Better late than never, says Dr. Ordway. “A flu shot will protect you through the whole flu season, which picks up in October and can extend into May. January and February is when we see the worst cases.”

Dr. Ordway adds that the flu vaccine takes a couple of weeks to reach full effect. “Flu vaccines are made up of flu virus particles … that your body recognizes and builds antibodies to, so that your body can recognize the real flu virus when it infects you, and keeps you from getting the flu.” Dr. Ordway explains how the vaccine works in this video. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

How do flu vaccines work?

Flu vaccines are made up of flu virus particles and these particles, although they weren’t ever really technically living, they’ve been, uh, changed so they’re not as harmful to us. So you’re essentially being, um, given flu virus particles that you’re body recognizes and builds antibodies to, so that your body can recognize the real flu virus when it doesn’t affect you, and keep you from getting the flu.

 

Conditions That Can Lead to Flu ComplicationsFlu Vaccination small

Health conditions that can put people at greater risk of complications from the flu include:

  • Chronic lung disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease, such as coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease
  • Kidney or liver disorders
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Weakened immune system from diseases such as cancer, HIV or AIDS
  • People younger than 19 on long-term aspirin therapy
  • Extreme obesity (body mass index of 40 or more)
  • Disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, stroke, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy or spinal cord injury
Small Steps: Print It and Go.
Take this handy chart of what screenings you should get when to discuss at your next doctor’s appointment.