Should you get a flu shot?

The CDC says that nearly everyone six months and older should get one.

“The vaccine may reduce your chances of getting the flu by up to 60 percent,” says Bruce Barrett, professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Wisconsin. “And by getting a shot, you also contribute to the public good.”

Why? “If enough of the population gets vaccinated, the flu is less likely to get to nursing homes, young kids, pregnant women, or people taking immunosuppressants,” Barrett notes. Those are the groups that are most likely to suffer serious complications—like pneumonia, bronchitis, or complications from chronic diseases—or to die from the flu.

It’s best to get your flu shot by the end of October. But if you haven’t gotten it yet, don’t panic. Flu season usually lasts until early spring, so even February isn’t too late.

And get the shot yearly. “Every year, we have different strains,” Barrett explains. “The flu shot you got last year may be partially effective against some of this year’s strains, but these viruses evolve quickly.”

Some people briefly get a low-grade fever or achy muscles as their immune system reacts to the vaccine. But “you can’t catch influenza from the flu shot because it doesn’t have live influenza in it,” Barrett points out.

And if you’re over 65, ask your doctor or pharmacist about the high-dose vaccine. “As we age, our immune system becomes less responsive to shots,” Barrett explains. The high-dose vaccine can help counter those changes.

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