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Flu shot facts: what you need to know

It may be your best shot to stay healthy.

This article was last updated on Sept. 24, 2021

It’s that time of year again — time for you to get a clue about the flu.

Having the flu can get serious, quickly. In the 2019-2020 flu season External Site alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 38 million people got sick with the flu, 400,000 of those cases required hospitalization, and 22,000 people died from the illness. On the other hand, the 2020-2021 flu season External Site had unusually low illness rates, likely due to the practices in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, like wearing face masks, increased hand washing, and more. 

Although habits like washing your hands frequently, staying away from people who are sick and taking care of your immune system are all important ways to avoid the flu this season, doctors say the best thing you can do to protect yourself is get the flu shot annually External Site

Five reasons to get the flu shot

why get the flu shot

Here are a few reasons why it’s important for you to get your flu shot External Site every year, according to the CDC.

  1. Fewer sick days.

    The vaccination prevents the flu or lessens the severity of the flu, which means you spend less time cooped up in the house and more time enjoying life.

  2. Saves you money.

    Reduce the chances of flu-associated hospitalizations or doctor visits and reduce your copays or hospital bills.

  3. Pregnancy protection.

    A flu shot protects women during and after their pregnancy and can also protect the baby several months after birth. Research shows that flu shots are safe for pregnant women External Site. Just talk to your doctor before getting any vaccine.

  4. Helps those with chronic conditions.

    By getting vaccinated, those with cardiac conditions, diabetes, or chronic lung diseases see a significant reduction in hospital or doctor visits. 

  5. Protects the people around you.

    Even if you don’t show flu-like symptoms, the virus can still be contagious to those around you.

How does a flu shot work?

The flu is caused by the virus called influenza and it’s an unpredictable virus that can mutate or change, which is why various strains of the vaccination are created. When you receive the flu shot, you’re being introduced to a non-infectious version of the virus and that bit of the influenza virus tells your body to create flu antibodies. Antibodies are the proteins in your body that fight against illnesses. It’s tricking your body to fight the flu without making you feel sick.

Is it safe?

Yes. Being a non-infectious version of the flu virus means that the vaccine cannot make you sick. And, it’s the best possible way to protect you and others from getting the virus.

The more people who get vaccinated, the quicker we can stop the spread of the flu in our communities, homes, schools and workplaces this fall.

When should I get a flu shot?

It can be difficult to know when you should get the flu shot because the flu season varies from year to year. However, the CDC says you can begin getting vaccinated in the fall, but recommends you get the shot by the end of October External Site. It's especially important to remember this timing for children because kids six months through eight years of age may need two doses of the vaccine.

While ideally you would get the flu shot before influenza activity picks up in your community, as long as the flu virus is circulating, vaccination should continue. Talk to your personal doctor if you need to get the shot later on in the season.

The flu shot and the COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it's especially important for people to get their annual flu shot, as well as the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the CDC, the COVID vaccine can be administered at the same time External Site as the flu shot. Getting both vaccinations can help protect vulnerable populations most at-risk for severe illness and the health care system as a whole. Get important updates and answers to top questions regarding COVID-19 and your health insurance benefits here Opens New Window

Get vaccinated for free!

Flu vaccines are typically covered at 100 percent by Wellmark health plans. As always, before getting a vaccine, log in to myWellmark® to check your benefits Opens New Window, and be sure to use an in-network provider.

Wellmark covers FluMist (live nasal spray vaccine)

In 2018, FluMist was added to the CDC's list of recommended flu vaccines External Site, which they hoped would boost flu vaccination rates. FluMist wasn't previously recommended due to concerns about low effectiveness.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) still recommends that children age 6 months and older stick to the injectable flu vaccine External Site due to its more consistent track record of effectiveness, and reserve FluMist for those who wouldn't be vaccinated otherwise.

Check out our "Get a clue about the flu" series

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