Your Questions About the Flu Vaccine
When Do I Need to Get the Vaccine?
Get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available at your doctor's office, public health clinic, supermarket, or wherever else it's offered in your area. "Many people unfortunately wait until cases of influenza are already in their community. That's not a particularly good idea because influenza is very contagious and it travels very quickly," Duchin says. The vaccine takes about two weeks to take full effect, so if your neighbor comes over coughing and sneezing and your immune system isn't yet fully primed against the flu, watch out.
Because experts are never sure exactly when in the flu season the first viruses will hit, earlier is better. Get the vaccine in August or September, and it should protect you through the whole flu season, even if it lingers until March.
Should I Get the Flu Shot or the Flu Spray?
The flu vaccine is available in two forms: the injected vaccine and the nasal spray. The shot is approved for everyone over 6 months.
It's long been advised that people with allergies to eggs should not get the flu shot. However, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says the vaccine contains such a low amount of egg protein that it's unlikely to cause an allergic reaction in those with an egg allergy. If you have a severe egg allergy (anaphylaxis), talk to your doctor before getting the flu vaccine. Also, flu vaccines not made with the use of eggs are available.
Talk to your doctor if you have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome. People who are moderately or severely ill should wait until they recover to get the vaccine.
Intradermal flu vaccines go into the top layer of skin instead of the muscle, which means the needle can be 90% smaller than the kind used for a standard flu injection. Like the egg-free vaccines, this one seems like it would be ideal for babies and kids, but it's approved only for adults 18 to 64.
If you're not a fan of shots, the nasal spray vaccine is a good alternative, but it's only approved for non-pregnant people ages 2 to 49 who are generally in good health without chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart or lung disease, or diabetes. Because the spray contains a live but weakened form of the virus, it's not recommended for people with diseases that interfere with the immune system, such as HIV. It also should not be used in children less than 5 years old with asthma or a history of wheezing in the past year, people with muscle or nerve disorders that can lead to breathing or swallowing problems, and children on long-term aspirin treatment. If you have a stuffy nose or other nasal problem that makes breathing difficult, you should get the shot. However, the CDC now recommends the nasal spray vaccine for healthy children 2 through 8 years old when it is available.