The fall and winter months are high time for the flu. Flu season typically begins in or around October and peaks in February or March, but it can last as late as May.
Each year, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick with the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The flu can cause mild to severe illness — and death in the most extreme cases.
An important way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine. That’s especially important in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the flu shot can’t prevent COVID-19, it can significantly reduce your risk of the flu. Getting a flu shot can reduce your risk of dealing with two respiratory illnesses and lower the potential burden on health care providers.
Here are a few tips and things to know about getting a flu shot.
Who Should Get a Flu Shot?
Everyone older than 6 months should get a flu shot, according to the CDC, with rare exceptions. Exceptions include people who have severe, life-threatening allergies and some people with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
Talk to your doctor if you have any allergies or medical conditions that you think could affect your ability to get a flu shot.
If you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 or have been exposed to COVID-19, you should postpone getting a flu shot until you meet the CDC’s guidelines for ending isolation. Talk to your doctor if you have more questions.
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When Should I Get a Flu Shot?
The sooner, the better when it comes to getting a flu shot. Flu season can begin as early as October, so doctors generally recommend getting vaccinated in September or October. However, you still can get a shot beyond those months.
Bottom line: If you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, it’s not too late.
Where Can I Go to Get a Flu Shot?
There are many options for getting a flu shot, and your insurance company may cover it at little to no cost to you.
Options at UPMC for getting a flu shot include:
- UPMC Primary Care: Patients can get a shot by appointment, while in the office for another reason, at specialized flu clinics, and at drive-up or drive-thru flu clinics.
- UPMC Urgent Care: No appointment is needed, but you can call ahead.
- UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital: If you are pregnant or have recently given birth, you can ask about the flu shot by calling 412-641-4302.
- UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics: Children can get a shot by appointment, while in the office for another reason, at special flu clinics, and at drive-up or drive-thru clinics.
Additionally, many pharmacies, walk-in clinics, and urgent care facilities offer flu shots, which often are covered by your insurance company. Call your insurance company to find out where you can go for a flu shot.
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I Don’t Have Insurance. Can I Still Get a Flu Shot?
Yes, you can — you’ll just have to pay more out of pocket. Your cost will depend on where you go and what type of flu vaccine you receive.
What Should I Do Before Getting My Flu Shot?
You may know the process of getting a flu shot from experience. But there are some steps you can take to make everything go smoothly.
- Talk to your doctor: If you think you have allergies or a medical condition that could cause side effects from the flu vaccine, call your doctor for advice. If you’re feeling ill, ask your doctor if you should still get a flu shot or if you should wait until your symptoms subside. Being sick doesn’t necessarily preclude you from getting a flu shot, but in some cases it may be better to wait.
- If you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19, or if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should postpone getting a flu shot until after you have passed the CDC’s recommended isolation period.
- Contact your insurance company to see if your plan covers a flu shot and where you can go to get one
- Get some sleep: A March 2020 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine suggests sleep duration can improve response to the flu vaccine. Getting a good night’s sleep the night before your flu shot might be beneficial.
- Calm your nerves: If you have a fear of needles or getting a shot, it may be best to do some preparation beforehand. Whether that’s eating or drinking something or doing something calming to relax your mind, it may benefit you.
What Should I Do After My Flu Shot?
Although you can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine, it is possible that you may experience side effects. Those can include:
- Pain, swelling, or redness at your injection site
- Muscle aches
Side effects are typically mild and fade within 24 hours to a couple of days. If you have a severe reaction to the flu shot, call your doctor immediately.
Also, please note that it can take about two weeks to develop antibodies after getting a flu shot, so you won’t be immune immediately. Continue to take other precautions to stay safe from the flu.
Other Tips to Avoid the Flu
Although getting a flu shot remains the best way to prevent the flu, it is still possible to get the flu. Flu vaccine effectiveness can vary from season to season, according to the CDC. Studies show the vaccine can lower the risk of flu by 40-60% in the general population, the CDC says.
Even if you do get the flu, the flu vaccine may lower the severity of your illness.
In addition to getting a flu shot, there are other steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting or spreading the flu:
- Stay home if you’re sick
- Avoid others who are sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes with tissues, and throw the tissues away when done
- Practice good hand hygiene: Frequently wash your hands with soap and water, scrubbing for 20 seconds before rinsing. If soap and water are unavailable, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes
- Practice healthy habits: Get plenty of sleep, exercise, and stay hydrated.
Also, preventive habits for limiting the spread of COVID-19 may help against the flu as well. Those include wearing facemasks in public, social distancing, practicing good hand hygiene, and cleaning and sanitizing frequently touched surfaces.
For more information about the 2020 flu season, visit UPMC.com.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Flu. Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Supply and Distribution. Link
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do the Flu Vaccines Work? Link
Aric A. Prather, Sarah D. Pressman, Gregory E. Miller, Sheldon Cohen, International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, Temporal Links Between Self-Reported Sleep and Antibody Responses to the Influenza Vaccine. Link
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.