Healthy Eating

Roll Up Your Sleeves for Flu Season

This year, get your flu shots early
Roll Up Your Sleeves for Flu Season: Main Image
It can take weeks after you get vaccinated for your immune system to protect you

Getting ready to send the kids back to school? “Put their flu shots on your list,” says Dr. Jeff Kalina, associate medical director of emergency medicine at The Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas. Infectious disease experts set changes to each year’s version of the flu shot, based on the most common strains of flu found in the environment at the end of each flu season, so “even if you and the kids had a shot last year,” says Dr. Kalina, “you need one again.”

Why now?

Why worry about the vaccine, when the possibility of flu seems so far away? Flu season typically lasts from November through March, but it can take weeks after you get vaccinated for your immune system to protect you against the flu.

Inquire at your local pharmacy to see if they offer flu shot clinics during the season. The vaccine supply may not be on hand before October, but it doesn’t hurt to call early to schedule an appointment or get on a call-back list so you will be notified when the supply comes in.

Should children have flu shots?

Babies under six months old have immune systems too underdeveloped to benefit from a flu vaccine, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that the following get shots each year:

  • Children between the ages of six months and five years
  • Children with chronic medical conditions such as asthma

Though they aren’t at risk for the same complications, ask your doctor if you should vaccinate an older child, simply to avoid a week out of school if they get sick.

If it’s the first time your child is getting the vaccine, and they’re younger than nine years old, they need two shots, given six to ten weeks apart, or four weeks apart for a new flu vaccine that is given as a nasal spray.

Who else can benefit?

Adults, of course, benefit from a flu shot, too, and it’s especially recommended for:

  • Anyone over age 50
  • Any woman who will be pregnant during flu season (don’t worry, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it’s safe to get the vaccine even if you’re already pregnant)
  • Anyone with a chronic illness
  • Anyone who cares for people who are ill or older

Are sprays good alternatives to shots?

Not all forms of flu vaccine are right for all people. Administering the vaccine by nasal spray is being more widely used, but should not be used by people with compromised immune systems or people around them, such as cancer patients in active treatment, people with HIV/AIDS, and those who spend time around infants less than 6 months old.

For more up-to-date information on the flu shot, check out the CDC’s influenza Web site: www.cdc.gov/flu.

Fran Kritz is a freelance writer in a suburb of Washington, DC, who always schedules early flu shot appointments for herself and her family.