Flu season hit early and hard this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the hospitalization rate for influenza is higher now than it’s been in more than 10 years.

Fortunately, there’s a way to help protect yourself and your family from getting sick: getting your flu shot. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months old and older get a flu vaccine every season, with few exceptions. In most areas, appointments are easy to find. Just search online for flu vaccine availability at a local pharmacy, hospital or clinic, or make an appointment with your primary care doctor.

Unsure of whether or not you want to get your flu vaccine? Read on for some common questions and answers about influenza immunization, and why now is a great time to protect yourself and others as we skate into the holiday season.

What is the flu?

The flu is a contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses, which can infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. The flu can be mild or severe, and could even cause death. Between 2010 and 2020, the CDC estimates that the flu has played a role in 12,000 to 52,000 deaths each year. The CDC lists the following as some of the symptoms of the flu:

  • Fever and/or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny/ stuffy nose
  • Muscle/body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)

When is flu season?

Flu season usually occurs in fall and winter. In the United States, it can start as early as October and generally peaks from December through February, according to the CDC, but can run as late as May. The season has become less predictable with the changes brought on by COVID. If you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, now is a good time so that you’re better protected during holiday gatherings, indoor meetups and into the new year.

What is the flu vaccine?

Flu vaccines are designed to protect against not one, but four different influenza viruses that are circulating during the current flu season. They all work by triggering the immune system to produce antibodies that will help protect you from the virus. There are a number of different types of flu vaccines—including vaccines aimed at people 65 and up, and vaccines for people with egg allergies—so it’s best to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what flu vaccine is right for you.

Why should I get vaccinated?

All across the country, the flu is spreading. As of late November, the CDC estimated that this season there have been at least 6.2 million illnesses, 53,000 hospitalizations and 2,900 deaths from influenza. When you get vaccinated, you’re reducing your risk of getting ill, and, if you do get ill, you’re less likely to experience severe sickness from the flu.

Can pregnant people get vaccinated?

Yes. According to the CDC, the flu shot is safe for pregnant people during any trimester, however, they should not get the live attenuated virus vaccine (LAIV) or the nasal spray. If you’re pregnant, be sure and talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best option for you.

Will the flu vaccine give me the flu?

No, the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu, says the Mayo Clinic. However, you could experience some flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and fever, as your immune system responds to the vaccine.

When should I get my next flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is an annual shot. The vaccine is updated each year to best target the flu strains that are in circulation that year. So if you’ve already gotten your flu vaccine for the 2022-23 flu season, you’ll want to get the shot at the start of the next flu season, in the fall of 2023.

Can I get a flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?

Yes, if you are eligible and due for a COVID vaccine, that’s fine; you can also space them out if you prefer. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.

What are other steps I can take to avoid getting the flu?

In addition to getting vaccinated, you can take easy, everyday steps to keep yourself healthy: wash your hands frequently; avoid close contact with people who are sick; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; consider wearing a mask when you’re going to be indoors with others; and take care of yourself throughout the year by eating a healthy, balanced diet, exercising, managing stress and getting enough sleep so that your immune system is strong.

If I wear a mask and avoid crowds, do I still need to get my flu vaccine?

Yes. While masking and crowd avoidance can lower your risk, it’s still possible to get sick. The CDC recommends vaccinations for flu and COVID-19, in addition to taking precautions. 

Nobody wants to get sick. Thanks to the ongoing research and dedication of scientists and healthcare professionals, it’s possible to protect yourself from certain illnesses and conditions through vaccination. To stay safe this flu season, make an appointment for your flu shot today.