Flu Shots: When, Where, and How To Get Them
The influenza (flu) season is underway in the United States and health care experts are urging Americans to protect themselves by getting vaccinated against the infectious respiratory disease.
While the flu spreads year-round, the flu season generally starts in the fall and winter. However, flu activity peaks between December and February, but significant activity can last as late as May, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Healthcare experts and pharmacists say the best time to get a flu shot is in September or by the end of October. But, if those months have passed, any time is a good time to get a flu shot. For instance, Dr. Bert E. Johansson, a vaccine expert with the National Hispanic Medical Association, told HuffPost, that “if you have the opportunity to get it in December, get it.” The CDC recommends getting a flu shot “as long as flu viruses pose a threat.”
Keep in mind that the flu vaccine does not work immediately because it takes about two weeks for your body to build up the antibodies to protect against the flu.
Health care experts say that when you get a flu shot, not only are you protecting yourself but protecting others, and preventing further strain on “already overburdened health care systems.”
“There were some really great studies [that] show when you vaccinate children, you decrease the likelihood of influenza in the elderly,” Johansson said. “I tell people, ‘don’t necessarily get it for yourself, get it for your grandmother or your grandfather.’”
A flu shot might also keep you out of the hospital, according to the CDC. The health agency’s preliminary estimates showed that people who had a flu shot last season were about 40 percent to 70 percent less likely to be hospitalized for a flu illness or related complications.
In some cases, people are reluctant to get a flu shot because they believe they will come down with the disease. But, this is not so, according to Amy Lynn Safaty, a CVS pharmacist and district leader based in Long Island, New York.
“I think one of the most common misconceptions when it comes to the flu vaccine is that people think if they get the vaccine, they are going to get the flu, which is not the case,” Safety told USA Today. “The vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, so it will not cause the flu.”
Another common misconception is that the flu is not a serious illness.
“People, unfortunately, [have] gotten used to saying it’s just the flu,” Johansson told HuffPost, but “influenza is a killer” and “tends to kill the young and the elderly,” as well as people with diseases like asthma and COPD.
Who Should and Should Not Get a Flu Shot?
The CDC recommends that anyone 6 months old and older get a flu shot. However, there are exceptions. According to the CDC, people who should not get a flu shot include:
- Children younger than 6 months old
- Children between 2-4 who have asthma
- Pregnant women
- People who had a flu shot in the past and had a severe allergic reaction
- People with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in a vaccine
In previous years, flu vaccines were using an egg-based manufactured process and contained a small amount of egg proteins, according to the CDC. So, people with egg-related allergies were urged to contact their health care provider who would be “able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions if an egg-based vaccine is used.”
This year, the CDC said in its report that this is not necessary: “Egg allergy alone necessitates no additional safety measures for influenza vaccination beyond those recommended for any recipient of any vaccine, regardless of severity of previous reaction to egg.”
Side Effects of the Flu Shot
Flu shots have side effects and this is “completely normal,” according to Helen Maser, a Walgreens Pharmacist and Pharmacy Manager based in Manhasset, New York.
Among the most common side effects are:
- A sore arm due to pain, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
- Mild headache
- Muscle aches
Maser told USA Today that side effects are a “good sign that the vaccine is kicking in and is doing its job to protect you.”
Can You Get a Flu Shot and a COVID-19 Shot At The Same Time?
Besides the influenza virus, the COVID-19 virus and the Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are circulating across the country. While COVID-19 vaccinations have been available for three years now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only approved a vaccine in May for RSV, a contagious respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages.
Health care experts say it’s safe to get a flu shot and a COVID-19 shot at the same time.
“The COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine are both inactivated vaccines, so there is no live virus in the vaccines,” Safaty told USA Today. “That means it’s perfectly safe to be given together. And when patients are scheduling an appointment online, they can book for multiple vaccines for one visit. You could also book appointments for your whole family at the same time.”
The updated COVID-19 booster shot is a closer match to the Omicron XBB.1.5 subvariant that is circulating around the country. The booster shot “will work really well against all of the variants that we currently have circulating in the United States and across the world,” Jodie Guest, the senior vice chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, told HuffPost.
There is uncertainty about getting vaccinated for RSV in combination with other vaccinations. The CDC says in its report that RSV is new and information on getting a RSV vaccine at the same time as getting a flu shot or COVID-19 vaccine is “limited and evolving.”
How to Schedule a Flu Shot Appointment
Appointments can be scheduled immediately. To schedule a COVID-19 or flu vaccination appointment at Walgreens, visit Walgreens.com/ScheduleVaccine, use the Walgreens app or call 1-800-WALGREENS.
Walgreens offers flexible openings, including nights, weekends and walk-ins when available.
Appointments can be made with CVS Pharmacy online or through the CVS Pharmacy app. You may also schedule a vaccination online at a CVS MinuteClinic location.
Other places that offer flu shots include:
- Rite Aid