Cross-posted from Public Health Insider
As fall rolls around and holiday gatherings approach, so does flu season. That means it’s time to think about another important vaccine you should get this year: your flu shot.
Here are ten things to know about the flu shot and why it’s so crucial this fall.
1. You may be able to get a flu vaccine for free in King County.
Flu vaccines are widely available at doctors’ offices, clinics and pharmacies, including at many large grocery store pharmacies without an appointment. Find a provider near you using VaccineFinder. Read more about how King County employees can get the flu shot through your health plan.
2. With few COVID-19 restrictions, the flu will likely make a comeback this year.
We had significantly lower levels of flu in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. COVID-19 precautions like masking, social distancing and limiting travel helped reduce the spread of the flu virus as well.
This fall, with most of these restrictions lifted, we could see the virus circulating more widely in our community. Less exposure to the flu in the past few years has also caused our collective immunity to wane, which could mean an early, more severe flu season.
Want to stay up to date on flu trends in our area? Track flu data in King County here on our dashboard.
3. It’s safe to get both the flu and COVID-19 vaccine — or booster — at the same time.
If you haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine yet, or you’re due to get a booster, you can save time by getting both at once. You will likely feel sore where you got the shots (typically on the upper arm) and may experience common side effects like fatigue, fever, headaches and other flu-like symptoms. However, research shows that side effects are similar whether you get the shots together or separately.
Public Health – Seattle & King County is unfortunately not able to offer COVID-19 and flu shots together at our COVID-19 vaccine sites in the Auburn Outlet Mall and Eastgate Public Health Center due to funding restrictions. However, many clinics, doctor’s offices and pharmacies are able to offer both vaccines in one location.
4. Back to school season means more flu spread.
School settings are easy spaces for viruses to spread. While most local schools were back to in-person classes in fall of 2021, some continued COVID restrictions helped limit flu spread. This fall, with most restrictions lifted, the flu virus has more opportunities to spread. Young children in particular may be more likely to get infected since many have never been exposed to the flu.
Several King County school districts have school based health centers (SBHC) that are providing flu shots. If your child lives in a district with a SBHC, they can access vaccinations and other healthcare services at no cost. Call ahead to find out about the best time and way to come to the clinic.
5. COVID-19 and the flu share similar symptoms.
COVID-19 and the flu virus will both be spreading this fall and winter. You may think you have the flu, but actually have COVID-19— or vice versa. Anyone who has symptoms of the flu or COVID-19 should avoid contact with others and get tested for COVID-19 immediately. This can help prevent you from accidentally spreading either virus.
Learn more about similarities and differences between COVID-19 and the flu from the CDC.
6. October is an ideal time to get your flu shot.
It takes several weeks after vaccination for your body to fully develop antibodies that protect against the flu. That means that ideally, everyone in the community should be vaccinated by the end of October, before flu activity begins to increase in the community and ahead of holiday gatherings and travel. Getting the shot now is especially important this year, with signs pointing to an early flu season.
If you can’t get the vaccine in October, that’s okay — flu shots are available throughout the winter.
7. Flu vaccines are recommended for everyone 6 months and up, including pregnant people.
The flu vaccine has been shown to be safe for everyone 6 months and older. It’s also safe and recommended for pregnant people, who are more likely to develop severe illness if they get the flu. The flu can also be harmful for a developing baby. Getting vaccinated can help protect a baby during their first 6 months of life, since they will get antibodies from their parent while in the womb.
Pregnant people can safely get the flu shot at any point during their pregnancy or afterwards when breastfeeding. Get more information on flu and pregnancy from the Washington State Department of Health.
People with life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in a flu vaccine, who have had an allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past, have certain rare conditions, or are not feeling well should speak with their health care provider before getting a flu shot. For more info, visit the CDC’s page on who should and should not get the flu shot.
8. Flu shots are recommended yearly because the virus is always changing.
Flu vaccines are updated yearly to protect against the strains of flu that experts predict will be circulating in the community. That’s why it’s so important to get a shot every year.
This year’s flu vaccine protects against four different flu viruses, according to the CDC.
Remember, you can’t get the flu from the flu shot — the vaccine contains either inactivated (killed) virus, or only parts of a flu virus, like certain proteins. These stimulate your immune system to be able to recognize the virus when it shows up and allow it to mount a response.
9. Special vaccines are available for older adults.
There are different flu shots available for people depending on their age. “Adjuvanted” and high-dose shots are available for adults age 65 and older. These create a stronger immune response and result in higher effectiveness and less likelihood of illness. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to understand which vaccine is right for you.
You can learn more about vaccines for older adults from the CDC.
10. If you hate getting a shot, other options are available.
There are many vaccine options to choose from, including an intradermal flu shot that uses a smaller needle. It’s available for adults ages 18 to 64 and provides the same level of protection as the regular flu shot. There is also a nasal spray flu vaccine available which is a good option for most healthy, non-pregnant people ages 2 to 49. If paying out of pocket, these vaccines may cost more.
See more frequently asked questions on the nasal spray flu vaccine.
Make sure to check with your healthcare provider or pharmacy to see which flu vaccine is recommended for you. Regular flu shots are more readily available than these other options, so call ahead to see what is available in your area.