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August 10, 2022 Health & Wellness

What to Know About the Flu Vaccine

In addition to the summer heat, August brings National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) to help us prepare to fight all those icky viruses that are more common in the fall, like influenza (the flu). Older adults tend to make up most flu-related deaths, so the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging (WIHA) started an initiative to get older adults vaccinated against the flu every year. However, it is important for people of all ages to ensure they get all of the vaccines recommended for their age on time, including boosters in adulthood of vaccines you may have received in childhood.

Why should I get the flu shot?

As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, those with chronic conditions are more likely to have serious complications when they get infected with viruses like COVID-19, influenza, and pneumonia. Getting your annual flu shot doesn’t necessarily make you 100% immune to influenza, but it is a great way to help protect yourself from serious complications.

Who should get the flu shot?

Anyone can get the flu, so the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older gets their annual flu vaccine. There are only a few rare exceptions to this recommendation. Influenza is considered a seasonal virus, so it is best to get vaccinated against it before it starts circulating in your community. Ideally, you should receive your vaccine sometime between September and before the end of October, but you can still get it later in the year if you need to. Protection against the flu can wane over time, so it’s not usually recommended to get your shot much earlier than that.

Is the flu shot safe?

Generally, yes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorizes and approves vaccines only after rigorous evaluation of lots of clinical data. It is possible, but extremely rare, to have a serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccine, but there are effective treatments available if this happens.

It’s important to know that the influenza vaccine cannot give you the flu. You can potentially have side effects after receiving the vaccine, but these are usually mild and short-lived. The CDC put together a great resource with Key Facts About the Seasonal Flu Vaccine that may answer more of your questions about the flu shot, including common misconceptions about the flu shot.

What other vaccinations do I need?

This year’s National Immunization Awareness Month is focused on reminding people to ensure they are up to date on all their vaccines – not just reminding people to get their annual flu shot. Many people may have missed getting some of their vaccines due to interruption of medical services during the COVID-19 pandemic, so now is a great time to make sure you’re caught up on immunizations! This could potentially include the pneumonia and COVID-19 vaccines, among others. If you’re still looking for somewhere to get your COVID-19 vaccine, you can check to find locations near you.

There are many ways to find out what vaccines you need to get. The first thing you should do is consult your physician. They can tell you which vaccines are recommended at your age and if you are due for any boosters. Your physician will also tell you if there are any reasons they would not recommend you receive a specific vaccine (for example, sometimes allergies may affect if you should get certain vaccines).

Another place you can check is the Wisconsin Immunization Registry (WIR). This should have your complete lifelong immunization record, and WIR can tell you if you’re due to receive any boosters. Physicians can also order tests to see if you are fully immunized against certain illnesses or if they would recommend you receive a booster.

Medicare Coverage of the Flu Shot

Medicare Part B will cover one flu shot per flu season. If your qualified health care provider accepts assignment for giving the shot, you won’t have to pay anything for your flu shot under Original Medicare. Assignment is when the provider agrees to accept the payment amount Medicare approves for the service directly from Medicare, and that they will not bill you any more than Medicare’s deductible and coinsurance for that service. Check with your doctor’s office or pharmacy for details before getting the flu shot there. If you have a Medicare Advantage Plan, contact your plan first, but most places accept Medicare Advantage Plans.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, you are the only one who can decide if getting vaccinated is right for you. Consulting with your doctor and looking at resources through government agencies like the CDC or other reputable medical sites are a great way to make sure you have all the information you need to make your decision.