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Division of Disease Control

The Flu Shot

Getting a flu shot is the single best way to protect against the flu.

What is the flu shot?
The flu shot is a vaccine that can protect you from getting sick from influenza viruses. The 2013/2014 vaccine protects against three flu viruses (two influenza type A's, H1N1 and H3N2, and an influenza type B virus).

The flu vaccine contains killed flu viruses. It cannot cause the flu, but it will help prepare the body to fight off infection from the flu virus.

The flu shot is usually given with a needle in the arm, but other versions of the flu vaccine, called FluMist, can be inhaled through the nose. FluMist vaccine contains weakened live flu viruses. However, the viruses cannot cause flu illness. Because it contains live viruses, the mist is not for people with weakened immune systems or certain health conditions. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is an option for healthy people aged 2-49 years who are not pregnant.

Who should get a flu shot?
Everyone!  This year, CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine.

It is very important that the following people get the flu shot because they are at high risk for having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for having flu-related complications:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • People 50 years of age and older
  • People with certain chronic medical conditions
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
  • Health care workers
  • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
  • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)

When should I get a flu shot?
The best time to get a flu vaccine is as soon as it becomes available in your community – usually in August, September or October. But late is better than never. Getting a flu shot in the winter months will still provide some protection for the flu season, which can sometimes last into the spring.

Should pregnant women get the flu shot?
Yes. It is safe and recommended for women to get a flu shot during pregnancy. Pregnant women are more likely to have serious complications from the flu, such as pneumonia and preterm labor, which can put the baby at risk, but the flu shot will help protect both mother and baby.

Why get a flu shot?
Why get a flu shotGetting a flu shot is not only the best way to protect YOU, it is also the best way to protect others.  If you don’t catch the flu, than you won’t spread it to your friends or your family. 

Babies younger than 6-months old cannot get the flu vaccine, but they are at high risk for serious illness and flu complications.  So, the best way to protect them is to make sure all members of their household and their caregivers are vaccinated.

Where can I get a flu shot?

For Adults
The best place to get a flu shot is at your doctor’s office.  You can also get a flu shot at many local pharmacies.  To find a location, use the “Find a Flu Shot” search tool on www.flu.gov.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health gives free flu vaccine to city residents over the age of 18 who don't have other insurance.  See the PDPH flu shot clinic schedule for the hours and locations. Vaccine will available to walk-in patients on a first-come-first-serve basis.  Please bring an ID or proof of residence.

For Children
The best place for children to get a flu shot at their doctor’s office.  Children who are eligible for the Vaccine For Children (VFC) program can receive flu shots for free from doctors who participate in the VFC program.

Children in Philadelphia can also get a flu shot at any PDPH health center.  However, the PDPH-sponsored community flu shot clinics are not for children.

How does the flu shot work?
Flu vaccines cause the body to develop antibodies. These antibodies protect against infection from the viruses that cause the flu.  It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against infection.  In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu.  That's why it is best to get vaccinated early in the fall, before the flu season really gets under way.

Since flu viruses change from year to year, the flu vaccine is updated to protect against the current viruses going around that year. The 2013/14 vaccine protects against three flu viruses (two influenza type A’s, H1N1 and H3N2, and an influenza type B virus).

What are the risks from getting a flu shot?
The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot.  The risk of a flu shot causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.  However, a vaccine, like any medicine, may rarely cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.  Almost all people who get influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it.

What are the side effects of the flu shot?
The most common side effect of the flu vaccine in adults is soreness at the spot where the shot was given, which usually lasts less than two days.  The soreness is often caused by a person’s immune system making protective antibodies to the killed viruses in the vaccine.  These antibodies are what allow the body to fight against flu. The needle stick may also cause some soreness at the injection site.

Rarely, some people, including children, also have symptoms such as a low-grade fever, muscle pain, and feelings of discomfort or weakness. If these problems occur, they are very uncommon and usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days.

What is the nasal spray vaccine?
FluMist is a vaccine that is sprayed into the nose to help protect against influenza.  The nasal mist vaccine contains weakened live flu viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened) and cannot cause flu illness.  Because it contains live viruses, the mist is not for people with weakened immune systems or certain health conditions. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is an option for healthy people aged 2-49 years who are not pregnant.

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