The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say everyone age six months and older should get an annual flu vaccine. But for you, it’s especially important—maybe even life saving.
Most people who get the flu have a mild illness and can recover in less than two weeks. Those with diabetes, however, are more likely to suffer flu-related complications if they get sick from influenza. Diabetes can make the immune system less able to fight severe flu, and illness can negatively impact blood sugar levels.
What is the flu vaccine?
Each year, researchers identify the three influenza viruses that will likely cause the most disease during the upcoming season. The seasonal flu vaccine is developed to protect against these specific flu strains. The vaccine causes the body to build up antibodies that provide protection against infection.
There are two types of vaccines: the flu shot, a killed virus that is given with a needle, and the nasal-spray flu vaccine, made with live, weakened flu viruses given via a nasal spray. You should get the first type—a flu shot made with inactivated (killed) flu virus. Do not take the nasal-spray vaccine.
Can it make me sick? Or won’t I just get the flu anyway?
Many people avoid the flu vaccine because they’re afraid it might make them sick. But the CDC says the flu shot cannot give you the flu. The most common side effects from a flu shot are a sore arm and a low fever or achiness. The nasal-spray flu vaccine might cause congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or cough. If you do experience these side effects, the CDC says they are mild and short-lived.
Others don’t get the shot because they’ve gotten it before and still gotten sick. There are several possibilities for this: you were exposed to a non-flu virus; you were exposed to the flu before your vaccine or before it took effect (usually two weeks); or, you were exposed to a flu virus that was very different from the ones included in that year’s vaccine.
When should you get the vaccine?
In the United States, flu season usually begins in October and can last until May. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for your body to develop antibodies that provide protection against influenza, so it’s best to get vaccinated as soon as the seasonal vaccine becomes available in your community. The vaccine doesn’t wane if you get it early; it protects against the included strains for the whole season.
The CDC says vaccination in the early fall is best. Vaccination before December usually ensures your body will have an immune response before flu activity is typically at its highest in January or February. But it’s not too late, if you’ve waited past then; as long as the flu is circulating in a community, the vaccine can still be effective.
Who should get it?
While everyone should get the vaccine, the CDC says it’s especially important for the following people do so because of their high risk for developing flu-related complications:
- Children between age six months and five years, especially those younger than two years old
- Pregnant women
- People age 50 years or older
- People of any age who have certain chronic medical conditions (including diabetes)
- Those who live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
- People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from the flu, including: those listed above; healthcare workers; caregivers or people with contact to children fewer than six months old (too young to be vaccinated)
Who shouldn’t get the flu vaccine?
You should NOT be vaccinated if you have:
- a severe allergy to chicken eggs
- had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination
- developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine
- a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (wait until you recover to get vaccinated)
If you’re still unsure about getting a flu shot, follow up with your primary care provider for more information. You can also get more information on the CDC website.