Flu season runs from October to May, with most cases happening from late December to early March. But the flu vaccine is usually offered from September until mid-November. Getting vaccinated before the flu season is in full force gives the body a chance to build up immunity to (protection from) the virus.
Even though it's best to get vaccinated as soon as the flu vaccine is available, getting the vaccine later can still be helpful. Even as late as January, there are still a few months left in the flu season, so it's still a good idea to get protected.
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older. It's especially important for people who are at greater risk of developing health problems from the flu to get vaccinated. They include:
Kids under 9 years old will receive two doses this flu season if they have received fewer than two doses of flu vaccine before July 2016. This includes kids who are getting the flu vaccine for the first time. Those under 9 who have received at least two doses of flu vaccine previously (in the same or different seasons) will only need one dose. Kids older than 9 only need one dose of the vaccine.
It can take 1 to 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective, so it's best to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Different types of vaccines are available. One type (called trivalent) protects against three strains of the flu virus (usually, two types of influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus). Another (called quadrivalent) protects against four strains.
The vaccine is given to kids by injection with a needle (the flu shot). This vaccine is safe and effective.
Some vaccines are approved only for adults at this time, such as egg-free vaccines and intradermal shots, which are injected into the skin (instead of muscle) with a smaller needle.
Although the flu vaccine also came in a nasal spray (or mist) form in the past, the nasal spray is not currently recommended. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that it didn't prevent cases of the flu between 2013 and 2016.
Certain things might prevent a person from getting the vaccine. Talk to your doctor to see if the vaccine is still recommended if your child:
In the past, it was recommended that anyone with an egg allergy talk to a doctor about whether receiving the flu vaccine was safe because it is grown inside eggs. But health experts now say that the amount of egg allergen in the vaccine is so tiny that it is safe even for kids with a severe egg allergy. This is especially important during a severe flu season.
Still, a child with an egg allergy should get the flu shot in a doctor's office, not at a supermarket, drugstore, or other venue. And if the allergy is severe, it might need to be given in an allergist's office.
If your child is sick and has a fever, talk to your doctor about rescheduling the flu vaccine.
Most people do not have any side effects from the flu shot. Some have soreness or swelling at the site of the shot or mild side effects, such as headache or low-grade fever.
The flu vaccine is available at:
If you have an HMO insurance plan, be sure to check with your primary care doctor before having your kids vaccinated outside the office, since most HMOs will pay for shots only if they're given through their plan.
The flu vaccine is covered by Medicare for senior citizens and is generally covered by insurance for people in other high-risk groups. Otherwise, the vaccine may cost anywhere from $10 to $50.