Ok, we get it. Flu vaccinations are painful and annoying. If you’ve ever had the flu, you know how bad it feels—high fever, chills, nausea, headaches, body aches, exhaustion, maybe a sore throat or runny nose as well. And it goes on for days, making you miss school or work. So if you don’t think about getting vaccinated now, you’ll regret it later when you have to spend vacation catching up on school work you missed when you were out sick.
Flu Vaccination: Your Best Protection
Getting a flu vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over 6 months old get a flu shot annually. If you get vaccinated early in the flu season, which generally runs from October to May, your body has longer to build immunity. But even after the season has started, getting vaccinated will still help protect you from getting sick. Immunization also helps protect the people around you, who may be at higher risk of complications from the flu, from getting sick. That’s extra essential if you live with anyone very young or over age 50; they tend to get sicker and have more complications from the flu. The same is true for those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, HIV, kidney disease, diabetes, or heart problems. If you have any of these conditions, be extra sure to get your flu vaccine. The consequences of illness could be very serious.
You may have heard that you can get the flu from the flu shot. That’s not true! The vaccine is made from strains of the virus that have been inactivated, so they can’t infect you. Reactions to the vaccine are usually mild and much less intense than the flu itself. Keep in mind that it takes a week or two for the vaccine to fully protect you. If you get the flu after getting the shot, you had already been exposed to the virus and would have gotten sick anyway.
Flu vaccines are made to protect against the three or four strains that are expected to make the most people ill that year. It’s possible to get the flu from exposure to a strain that wasn’t included in the vaccine, but even then you’ll likely be less sick than if you didn’t get vaccinated. Be sure to get the flu shot, rather that flu mist, which is not as effective and no longer recommended by the CDC.
Where to Get a Free Flu Shot
If you live in the New York City area and are 10-22 years old, you can get a free flu vaccine at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. We provide every kind of health care to adolescents and young adults, all confidential and free of charge. If you live outside the New York City area, many county health departments offer free flu shots. Also look for vaccination clinics held by community health centers. If you are covered by Medicaid or your parent’s health insurance, the flu vaccine should be free at any in-network provider, although you may have to pay the cost of an office visit. If you have an egg allergy, make sure you get your flu shot in a doctor’s office. Many drug stores also offer free or cheap flu shots, and your school may run a free flu vaccination clinic.
Even if you get the flu vaccine, it’s still important to take care of yourself. Help your body fight off other illnesses by getting at least 8.5 hours of sleep each night and eating healthily. Your body will thank you later.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.