Why getting a flu shot is crucial this season

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SALT LAKE CITY — Flu season is coming up and doctors say you won’t want to miss getting a flu shot this year.

Why should I get vaccinated?

In January, Time reported that the 2017-18 flu season was one of the worst seasons in the past 13 years.

“The dominant viral strain, H3N2, was a particularly severe form of influenza, leading to widespread and serious illness across the country,” according to the Time article. “The flu and its complications killed around 80,000 people last year, the CDC estimates, including 180 children. That’s the highest flu death toll in four decades.”

As a result of last season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that you get your flu shot as soon as possible. Health educator for the Utah Department of Health Rebecca Ward said that it’s important to get vaccinated every flu season, even if you got a flu shot the previous year.

“The vaccines change based on the predominantly circulating strains, so last season’s vaccine may not cover strains that are circulating this year,” she said.

The CDC reports that a flu shot typically reduces your chances of getting influenza by 40-60 percent.

“We do know from studies that have been done that getting the influenza vaccine really can decrease serious illness, even if you were to contract influenza,” Ward said. “It can reduce the severity of the illness and likely reduce the ability of being hospitalized.”

Who should get a flu shot?

The CDC has recommended that, except with very few exceptions, everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot.

“The CDC is actually recommending to get the vaccine by the end of October if possible,” Ward said. “Earlier is better than later, and there’s no indication if you got (the shot) earlier… that you would need to have it repeated. It typically lasts the entire season.”

Ward also mentioned that there are specialized dosages for high-risk groups like children and the elderly. There is even a live nasal spray for those afraid of needles. Ward said the nasal spray is available for non-pregnant individuals and those ages 2 to 49.

Ward also said it's a myth that getting the flu shot makes you contract the flu.

“(The vaccines) are created with a weakened form of the virus so there’s no possibility of getting influenza from the vaccine — that’s a misconception,” she said.

How does it work?

As Ward mentioned, the vaccines themselves are made of a weakened form of the flu virus. This helps your body develop the antibodies it needs to fight off influenza.

She also said that there are a few different strains of the flu, and vaccines are built to fight off certain types. Most vaccines fight off three or four kinds of influenza, according to Ward.

As for the effectiveness of the shot, it varies from person to person.

“It’s difficult to predict the effectiveness (of the vaccine) and that can be based on a number of factors,” Ward said. “It can be based on how well the vaccine is matched to the circulating strain. Sometimes (the strains) do change and the vaccine isn’t as effective as it could have been. It can also be based on a person’s health status and age, so it’s not completely to do with the vaccine itself.”

Where can I get my flu shot?

Luckily, flu shots are offered in a lot of easily-accessible places. Most pharmacies offer flu shots at a low price or even for free. Stores like Costco, Walgreens and Target sometimes offer the shot, as well. Time reported that, without insurance, most flu shots cost $40 or less if you can’t find one for free.

The Utah Department of Health has a locator for places that offer flu vaccinations here.

You can also ask your physician for the vaccine or contact your health care provider for more information.

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