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Flu shot: Your best bet for avoiding influenza
Getting a flu shot often protects you from coming down with the flu. And although the flu shot doesn't always provide total protection, it's worth getting.By Mayo Clinic staff
This year's annual flu shot will offer protection against H1N1 flu (swine flu) virus, in addition to two other influenza viruses that are expected to be in circulation this fall and winter.
Influenza is a respiratory infection that can cause serious complications, particularly to young children and to older adults. Flu shots are the most effective way to prevent influenza and its complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older be vaccinated annually against influenza.
Here are the answers to common questions about flu shots.
When is the flu vaccine available?
Because the flu vaccine is produced by private manufacturers, its availability depends on when production is completed. For the 2012-2013 flu season, manufacturers have indicated shipments are likely to begin in August and continue throughout September and October until all vaccine is distributed. Doctors and nurses are encouraged to begin vaccinating their patients as soon as flu vaccine is available in their areas.
It takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu shot, but you can benefit from the vaccine even if you don't get it until flu season starts.
Why do I need to get vaccinated every year?
New flu vaccines are released every year to keep up with rapidly adapting flu viruses. Because flu viruses evolve so quickly, last year's vaccine may not protect you from this year's viruses.
After vaccination, your immune system produces antibodies that will protect you from the vaccine viruses. In general, though, antibody levels start to decline over time — another reason to get a flu shot every year.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccinations for everyone age 6 months or older. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of influenza complications, including:
- Pregnant women
- Older adults
- Young children
Chronic medical conditions can also increase your risk of influenza complications. Examples include:
- Cerebral palsy
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Kidney or liver disease
- Muscular dystrophy
- Sickle cell disease
Who shouldn't get the flu shot?
Check with your doctor before receiving a flu vaccine if:
- You're allergic to eggs. Some flu vaccines contain tiny amounts of egg proteins. If you have an egg allergy or sensitivity, you'll likely be able to receive a flu vaccine — but you might need to take special precautions, such as waiting in the doctor's office for at least 30 minutes after vaccination in case of a reaction. There's also a flu vaccine that doesn't contain egg proteins, approved for use in adults age 18 and older.
- You had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. The flu vaccine isn't recommended for anyone who had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine. Check with your doctor first, though. Some reactions might not be related to the vaccine.
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- Vaccine virus selection for the 2012-2013 influenza season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/vaccine-selection.htm. Accessed July 24, 2012.
- What you should know for the 2012-2013 influenza season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2012-2013.htm. Accessed July 24, 2012.
- Who should get vaccinated against influenza. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/whoshouldvax.htm. Accessed July 24, 2012.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et al. Prevention and control of influenza with vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2011. MMWR. 2011;60:1128.
- Key facts about seasonal flu vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm. Accessed June 4, 2012.
- Steckelberg JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 4, 2012.
- Vaccine information statement: Influenza vaccine 2012-2013 — live, intranasal. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-flu.pdf. Accessed July 25, 2012.
- Vaccine effectiveness — How well does the flu vaccine work? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm. Accessed July 25, 2012.
- Preventing the flu: Good health habits can help stop germs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm. Accessed July 25, 2012.
- FDA approves first seasonal influenza vaccine manufactured using cell culture technology. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm328982.htm. Accessed Nov. 20, 2012.