The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an annual flu vaccine for anyone aged 6 months or older, with very few exceptions. The flu can cause serious illness, hospitalization, and even death. The flu vaccine reduces the risk of those outcomes. Not only does the flu shot protect you from getting sick, it also helps protect the people in your community.
“Patients who are older, pregnant, immunocompromised, and very young children are especially at risk of serious outcomes from the flu. By getting the flu vaccines, individuals can reduce their risk of severe illness should they get the flu, and protect those around them,” says Erica S. Shenoy, MD, PhD, chief of Infection Control at Mass General Brigham and an infectious diseases doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Annual flu shots are very effective and each year are reformulated to provide protection against the most likely circulating strains of the virus. Some people who get the flu vaccine, but still come down with the flu, might think that the vaccine doesn’t work well.
“That’s actually not true,” says Dr. Shenoy. “Study after study has shown that people who get the vaccine and become infected with influenza have less severe disease. In fact, last year, the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine was 54% for preventing illness requiring a visit to the emergency department or other outpatient setting, and 71% for preventing symptomatic illness among children and adolescents. This year, the CDC has been describing how the vaccine converts flu from ‘wild to mild,’ and that’s a great description.”
Flu season typically runs from October to May, and in previous years has peaked in the early part of the year. However, in 2022-2023, it came early.
The immunity from your flu shot should last for the full duration of the flu season. “You are protected for the current flu season, but each year, you’ll need to get your shot to stay protected,” explains Dr. Shenoy.