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Is It Too Late to Get Your Flu Shot? Experts Weigh In

October is here and so is flu season. Is it too late to get your flu shot? Doctors say no — and advise getting one as soon as possible, especially since last year was one of the deadliest flu seasons in history.

Darria Long Gillespie, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine and author of the upcoming book Mom Hacks, says of the 2018 to 2019 season, “It seems it will be slightly milder than last year, but again, there is still time for the flu virus to evolve and change so we can always make estimations for what it’s going to be like, but I never would rely on them.”

First, let’s review how the flu shot actually works.

Long Gillespie explains that the most widely available vaccine exposes your body to a small amount of “inactivated” or non-infectious viruses. There are also what’s called “recombinant” flu vaccines, that don’t include any flu viruses at all; this means that you can’t actually get the flu from the flu shot.

However, it’s still a common misconception that you can get the flu from the flu shot itself. Often people simply get a cold after having the shot, which is also going around, and mistakenly blame the vaccine, Long Gillespie says. Once your body is exposed to the vaccine, it creates antibodies for the specific strain of flu introduced, making you far better equipped to fight the virus if you encounter it out in the world.

What’s different about this year’s vaccine?

The estimations that the 2018 to 2019 season may be milder than in last year’s are based on looking at Australia, Long Gillespie explains, as they experience flu season before us. Last year’s killer strain was H3N2, which we will see more of this year. “We can almost always expect some subtype of H3N2,” she says. The flu shot, which is free at many pharmacies across America, or can be provided by your primary care doctor, is either trivalent (meaning it protects against three strains of the flu virus) or quadrivalent (meaning it protects against four strains).

The biggest difference this season is that along with the flu shot, there is also a vaccine nasal spray available to anyone ages two to 49 who isn’t pregnant. Talk to your doctor to find out which version of the vaccine is best for you. Long Gillespie says that the shot is more effective than the spray, but the spray is better than nothing.

So, why should I go get my flu shot now?

Get your flu shot now to lower your chances of suffering through the flu. While it’s impossible for doctors to perfectly predict all the flu strains, especially as they can change and mutate, sitting through a shot is much better than potentially suffering through the flu. The flu can cause uncomfortable body aches, nausea, fevers, and as last year demonstrated, even death.

Plus, according to Long Gillespie, “The flu vaccine reduces your chances of complications if you get the flu, as well as lowers the severity and duration” of sickness — meaning, while you may still contract the virus, you’re likely to recover more quickly if you’re vaccinated. Learn more about the flu, the flu vaccine, and how to protect yourself right here — and, if you haven’t yet, go get that vaccine. It’s definitely still worth it.

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