By Paul Downey
It’s that time of the year when you start hearing about the flu shot or seeing signs to “Get Your Flu Vaccine Here!” And in fact, there is no better time than now to get vaccinated.
For millions of people every season, the flu can mean a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, fatigue and miserable days spent in bed. However, you may not realize that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized in the United States from flu complications each year. In fact, during the 2014-2015 flu season, 710,000 Americans were hospitalized and 56,000 died, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Flu season typically peaks between December and February, but significant activity can occur as late as May. Recently, the CDC recommended people get their vaccines for the 2018-19 flu season by the end of October before the flu begins spreading in your community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout flu season, even into January or later.
While how well the vaccine works can vary, the benefits from vaccination are well documented. Studies show flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. This is why the CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. The flu vaccine is available as a shot and as a nasal spray.
Getting the flu vaccine is simple, and it’s the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family. Talk to your doctor or other health care professional about which vaccine is best for you and your family.
Some people are at high risk for serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia, that can lead to hospitalization and even death. This includes young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people with certain medical conditions, like asthma, diabetes or heart disease. For those at high risk for complications, getting the flu vaccine is especially important. It’s also important to get the vaccine if you care for anyone at high risk, including seniors with chronic health conditions.
Most health insurance plans cover the cost of recommended vaccines. Check with your insurance provider for details of coverage. You can also use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder at vaccinefinder.org to find the nearest location where you and your family can get vaccinated. In San Diego, you can walk into an immunization clinic or call 1-866-358-2966 for more information.
So next time you see a sign that says, “Get Your Flu Vaccine Here,” stop in and get one, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
—For more nearly two decades, Paul Downey has been a national advocate for low-income seniors as well as the president and CEO of Serving Seniors, a nonprofit agency dedicated for more than 45 years to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more at servingseniors.org.