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Don't Hit Snooze on the Flu Vaccine: Why It Matters to You

Don't Hit Snooze on the Flu Vaccine: Why It Matters to You

This article is for anyone who wants to learn or learn more about the flu vaccine. The goal of this activity is to help you talk to and work with your doctor and healthcare team about why getting the flu vaccine is important.

You will learn about:

  • What the flu is and how it can spread

  • Symptoms and complications (additional problems) that can happen from the flu

  • How flu vaccines work to help protect you

  • Different types of flu vaccines

  • Questions to ask your doctor and healthcare team

Test Your Knowledge

Flu Overview

Influenza -- or "the flu" -- is an illness caused by several different influenza viruses that can infect your nose, throat, and lungs. Anyone can get the flu at any age. You can even get infected and sick more than once.

The flu spreads mainly through droplets in the air that form when someone who's infected talks, coughs, or sneezes. You can spread the flu before you even know you're sick, and for up to 7 days after symptoms show up. Some people though -- including children and people who are living with a weakened immune system -- can spread it even longer.

Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms usually appear 1 to 4 days after you're infected. They can range from mild to severe and may include:

  • Fever, chills

  • Fatigue (tiredness), weakness

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Sore throat

  • Dry cough

  • Trouble breathing

  • Headache

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Vomiting, diarrhea

Most people can recover at home within 2 weeks, but for some, the flu can cause serious problems and even be deadly.

Complications From the Flu

Complications (additional problems) from the flu can happen to anyone, but certain people are at a higher risk. This includes those 65 and older or younger than 5, and people who are pregnant or living with certain health conditions.

Complications can include:

  • Lung problems, such as pneumonia (an infection)

  • Ear and sinus infections

  • Heart problems

  • Inflammation (swelling) of your brain or muscles

  • Worsening of certain chronic (long-term) health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes

  • Hospitalization

Ask your doctor or healthcare team member if you're at a higher risk for complications.

Flu Vaccines Work With Your Immune System

The best way to help protect yourself from the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year, sometimes called the flu shot depending on which vaccine you get.

The flu vaccine works with your immune system -- your body's natural defense system -- to help protect you by triggering it to make special proteins called antibodies. Antibodies stay in your body and can help defend against the virus if you're exposed to it later. This is how you can help build immunity (protection) against a future infection.

If you do get the flu after getting the vaccine, it's likely that you won't get as sick. Getting the vaccine also helps lower your chances of complications from the flu and of spreading it to others.

Types of Flu Vaccines

Flu viruses exist year-round, but can have a "season" when they're most common. Viruses can also change with new strains developing, so flu vaccines are made to protect against the strains that are most likely to be common that season.

There are different types of flu vaccines that are made with different ingredients, technologies, and processes. They all provide protection, but the one your doctor recommends will depend on your age and other conditions you may have.

Not every type of flu vaccine may be available every year, so talk to your doctor or healthcare team member about which one may be for you and when and where you should get it.

Vaccine Type

Age Group

Made Using

Standard-dose flu shot

6 months and older

Substances grown in eggs as part of the process

Cell-based flu shot

6 months and older

Substances grown in cell culture (mammal cells) and is egg-free

Recombinant flu shot

18 years and older

A process called recombinant technology using antigen and is egg-free

High-dose flu shot

65 years and older

Antigen and eggs as part of the process

Adjuvanted flu shot

65 years and older

An ingredient called an adjuvant and eggs as part of the process

Live attenuated flu nasal spray

Ages 2 through 49

Attenuated (weakened) virus and eggs as part of the process

Possible Side Effects

All medicines can have side effects. Some that may happen with flu vaccines can include:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling at the spot where the shot was given

  • Headache, muscle aches

  • Fever

  • Nausea

  • Fatigue

Side effects from flu vaccines are typically mild and go away on their own in a few days. Serious side effects are very rare.

Staying Protected

Almost everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year. You can get the vaccine at any time, but the best time is before flu season starts.

Flu vaccines are usually available at your doctor's office, pharmacy, health clinic, and community health center. Many state and local government websites also have online information and a vaccine finder with locations where you can get a vaccine.

In addition to getting the vaccine, other ways to help stay protected and prevent the flu from spreading include:

  • Covering your nose and mouth when you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose

  • Washing your hands well and often

  • Keeping surfaces and frequently touched objects clean

  • Avoiding people who are sick and staying home if you're sick

Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team

Finding a doctor or healthcare team member who understands your needs and the needs of your community is important.

Questions you can ask them about getting the flu vaccine can include:

  • Why is getting the flu vaccine every year important?

  • Am I at a higher risk of complications from the flu?

  • What type of flu vaccine do you recommend for me?

  • When and where should I get the vaccine?

  • What can I expect when I get the vaccine? 

  • What else can I do to help protect myself and others?

  • Where can I find more information and resources?

Test Your Knowledge

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You have successfully completed the program Don't Hit Snooze on the Flu Vaccine: Why It Matters to You.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Key Facts About Influenza (Flu)

People at Higher Risk of Flu Complications

Health Equity and the Flu

Prevent Seasonal Flu

Different Types of Flu Vaccines

Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Karen Badal, MD, MPH

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.

Karen Badal, MD, MPH, has no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC.

Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has no relevant financial relationships.


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