You rarely get sick. You’re afraid of needles. You got the flu shot last year.
When flu shot season comes around, there is no shortage of excuses for why you haven’t gotten it, but they usually won’t be justified.
“There are a variety of reasons why people don’t want to get vaccinated, but by passing up a flu shot, you are putting your body at risk. Getting vaccinated is the most effective way to protect yourself from the flu,” explains Madelaine Saldivar, MD, primary care physician at Lankenau Medical Center, Main Line Health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone age six months and older should receive the flu vaccination annually. Vaccination is especially important for pregnant women, older adults, and young children, who are all at a higher risk for flu-related complications than the general population. If you fall into one of these groups, a flu shot should be a priority.
But how can you get a squeamish six-year-old to agree to a flu shot when the idea of a needle makes them nervous? Fortunately, flu shots aren’t just administered through injection. Many locations also offer a nasal spray version of the vaccine that is available for patients age 2–49 who are not pregnant and do not have any chronic medical conditions. Check with your physician to make sure you are a candidate for this method.
A common misconception about the flu vaccine is that if you’re typically a very healthy person, you don’t need it. Not so, says Dr. Saldivar. Although washing your hands and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth will certainly decrease your risk for the flu, it won’t protect you completely. No matter how healthy you are, you can still be at risk, even if you were vaccinated last year.
“The flu is an infection caused by several different types of influenza virus. The vaccine changes every year to reflect the viruses that are most likely to be a problem in that year,” says Dr. Saldivar. “That’s why you should get a vaccine every year. Last year’s vaccine is never effective because it doesn’t contain the right influenza types for the current year.”
Make sure you get yours in time, too. Although flu season peaks in colder months like January and February, flu activity and outbreaks can begin as soon as October, so keep an eye out for when the vaccine becomes available in your area.
For a full list of where the flu vaccine is being distributed in your area, visit flu.gov, managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.