This article was last updated on Oct. 6, 2022.
It’s that time of year again — time for you to get a clue about the flu.
The 2020–2021 flu season External Site and 2021–2022 flu season External Site had unusually low illness rates, likely due to an increase of COVID-19 spread prevention tactics like wearing face masks and increased hand washing. Experts fear that this year's strain of the respiratory virus could be severe, especially as many places have reduced mask wearing and social distancing.
To predict flu prevalence in America, health experts look to countries in the Southern Hemisphere, where flu season runs May through September. Flu cases have surpassed pre-pandemic levels External Site there, causing many to worry about what's in store.
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
Here are a few reasons why it’s important for you to get your flu shot External Site every year, according to the CDC.
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.
Saves you money.
A flu shot reduces the chances of flu-associated hospitalizations or doctor visits, which reduces copays or hospital bills that may have been associated with catching the virus.
Getting a flu shot while pregnant 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.
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.
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. 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 give you the flu. 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?
The CDC says you can get vaccinated throughout 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 and subsequent boosters. According to the CDC, COVID vaccines 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 health care 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
Need more information about colds and flu, as well as how to avoid them? Take a look at these articles: