Activate Your Defenses Against the Flu

Posted on: October 12, 2015

Activate Your Defenses Against the Flu

This year, government analysis indicates the vaccine will be a good match for this year’s flu strains. Read on…

By Dr. Debra Spicehandler

Believe it or not, it’s already flu shot time. If you haven’t already scheduled one, now is the time. Gaining full immunity can take about two weeks, and you want to make sure you’re protected before the flu begins circulating in your community.

You may have heard that last year’s vaccine didn’t offer as much protection as usual, but that’s no reason to skip the shot this year. Developing the yearly flu vaccine is a complex process: Several months in advance of flu season, public health officials have to predict which strain of flu virus will be most prevalent come winter in order to give vaccine makers time to produce the nearly 180 million doses America requires. Occasionally, the predictions miss the target—or the target moves. In 2014, the flu virus mutated after the vaccine had shipped. As a result, the shots were only about 13% effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This year, a recent government analysis indicates the vaccine will be a good match for this year’s flu strains. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older should get the vaccine, which now comes as a needle injection, a jet (air) injection, and a nasal spray. You can get vaccinated at your doctor’s office, your workplace, or at local pharmacies, health departments, and schools.

Flu shots are available right now, and the sooner you get your dose the better. It takes about two weeks for immunity to kick in, and you want to be sure you have immunity before the virus starts circulating in your area. People who should be first in line are those at higher risk for complications from the flu, such as the elderly, young children, and anyone with a compromised immune system. You can rest assured that the vaccine is safe; the only reason to avoid it is if you have a history of an allergic reaction to the shot. (By the way, you do need to get a shot every year—immunity doesn’t carry over.)

In order to protect against catching the flu, get the vaccine and be careful to always wash your hands. If symptoms do develop, see your doctor. If you test positive for the flu, you can get a prescription for antiviral drugs, which can reduce your symptoms and help you heal faster.

Find a flu vaccine location near you…

Editor’s Note:
Debra Spicehandler, MD is Co-Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases at Northern Westchester Hospital