According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone (including babies 6 months and older) should get some form of flu vaccine. Vaccines prevent the illness about 50 to 80 percent of the time in adults under age 60, and about 40 to 60 percent of the time in those 65 and older. (Older adults’ immune systems respond less strongly to the vaccine.) While those prevention rates may not sound so high, if you get vaccinated and still come down with the flu you’ll probably have a milder case, which means less chance of suffering serious complications.
It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to start the buildup of virus antibodies that protect you. So the sooner in the season you get vaccinated, the better.
The degree of effectiveness of flu vaccines each year depends on how well the strains of flu virus used to make the vaccines match those that actually emerge during the flu season. Vaccine makers generally rely on forecasts by the World Health Organization, Food and Drug Administration, and CDC about which strains are most likely to circulate next. This year’s standard vaccine is being formulated to create immunity to the influenza A (H3N2) strain, which caused so much misery last year, along with two other flu strains that also circulated widely.
Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to start the buildup of virus antibodies that provide you with protection, so the sooner you get inoculated, the better. Typically, the vaccine protects you for six to eight months.
Vaccine side effects are uncommon and usually mild; they consist of soreness or redness at the injection site, body aches, and/or a low fever lasting a day or two. Doctors have reported rare cases of serious allergic reactions to flu vaccines. But Consumer Reports’ medical consultants say that the protection against illness, hospitalization, and death far outweighs the risks.
Where to get your vaccine? According to William Schaffner, M.D., professor and chairman of the preventive medicine department at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., the most convenient place—be it your doctor’s office, a pharmacy, or at work—is the best place to get vaccinated because there’s less chance that you’ll put it off. Just make sure that the location you select accepts your health insurance.
Unfortunately, the 2013-2014 flu season appears to be getting off to an early start, with several states reporting cases and some flu-related hospitalizations. But there is good news: Vaccine manufacturers have reported no production problems with the standard vaccine, so supplies are expected to be abundant and widely available.