Taking the influenza vaccine or flu shot every year is the most effective way to protect yourself against this viral infection. If you are eligible and have no contraindications, you must take the flu shot every year. And, there are convincing reasons and benefits for taking it.

Why take the flu shot vaccine?

These facts about the flu statistics tell you how many people get infected, how many get hospitalized, and how many have died from its complications. These are enough reasons to convince you to get vaccinated every year.

Flu strikes every year and the victims do have a rather miserable time with its symptoms during the time of the illness. Some, especially the young and healthy adults may have mild symptoms and the sickness runs its normal course, but even then, these symptoms are enough to make the patient feel terrible and stay at home and away from school or work.

The elderly, with a not-so-efficient immune system, suffer more and are at a higher risk of developing the sickness and its complications,  which may require hospitalization.

Children, too, below the age of five years, are in the high-risk group and can develop complications, which are especially seen in that young age group and which can cause death.

Do read about the risk factors that increase your chances of catching the flu.

The flu pandemics have affected millions across countries and thousands have died from the complications. The most recent pandemic of 2009-2010, which was caused by a new strain of the flu virus (H1N1 or the swine flu virus) spread worldwide and killed 12000 people in the United States alone, most of who were below 65 years of age.

Getting the whole family vaccinated also protects your family members because one case in the household can be a potential reason for the flu to spread among the family. This is due to the fact that the flu virus spreads rapidly through the air and is very contagious. You save your family members from a lot of misery, which this infection can cause.

Children are more vulnerable because of the intermingling of children in school and preschool. A single child with flu can act as a potential threat to other children. If your child is vaccinated, he or she stands a better chance of being protected against this threat.

That explains why you should get yourself and your family members vaccinated.

Why take it every year?

There are three types of flu viruses: Influenza virus A, Influenza virus B, and Influenza virus C.

All these types of viruses evolve, mutate or change their form or properties making the vaccine used in the previous year, ineffective.

Due to this evolving property of the viruses, a new vaccine, therefore, has to be manufactured every year, which can be effective against the prevalent evolved virus strain of the current year. The ingredients of the vaccine, therefore, have to be changed every year and that is the reason you really need to take the vaccine every year.

There are different types of flu vaccines and each has its own indications and route of administration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the flu vaccine be taken every year just before the onset of the flu season.

This flu season occurs during the cold dry winter months. In the United States, these flu season months start in October and stretch up to May. The infection peaks among the population during the month of February.

Is it bad to take the flu shot as some say?

You do see a lot of material on the web giving nonconvincing reasons that the flu shot is bad.

The vaccine is safe and is even advocated for pregnant women and lactating mothers. There may be some minor side effects like a painful arm and shoulder, but these side effects last for a day or two. Considering the maladies of the flu fever, these are but a minor setback against the benefit of the protection it offers and in preventing its complications.

As mentioned above, the statistics of deaths caused by it and its epidemics are alarming and an established fact.

Who needs to take the flu shot vaccine twice a year and why?

Doctors may advise some children between the age of 6 months and 8 years to take the flu vaccine twice during the same season. This is indicated when

  • the child of this age group is taking the vaccine for the first time
  • and when the child has been vaccinated only once for the first time during the previous year.

Two vaccines in the same year become necessary in such children because taking just one vaccine does not offer enough protection.

The first dose of the vaccine is recommended to be taken early, as soon as the vaccine becomes available. This ensures protection before the virus starts circulating in the community.

The second vaccine is recommended after 28 days or 4 weeks following the first.

The first dose fortifies the immune system and the second dose provides immunity cover. It takes about two weeks after the second dose for the immune system to offer full coverage.

These two doses serve to provide the child adequate protection against the virus.

Having taken the vaccine twice in any one year, the child will then require only one vaccine in subsequent years.

Children who need to take two doses, but are vaccinated only once are at an increased risk because they have insufficient or no protection.

However, in children more than 9 years of age, this does apply.

Flu shots twice a year every 6 months

Dr. John J. Treanor, a vaccine expert at the University of Rochester medical school, as quoted in well.blogs.nytimes.com, mentions that there is a lot of debate whether elderly people above 65 years of age and those with a compromised immune system should get the shot twice during the flu season, because the vaccine taken in October may not be as effective in April.

There is no solid documentation, therefore, to establish any benefits of taking the flu vaccine twice a year every six months.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) does not recommend more than one dose of influenza vaccine in a season, except for certain children aged 6 months to 8 years, as explained above.

However, if a person does not remember if he took the vaccine that particular year should be vaccinated .

How long is the flu vaccine effective?

The flu shot offers protection against the flu for at least 6 months. In the United States, healthcare professionals usually advise vaccination in October, when flu activity typically begins to increase, so their immunity will last until the following April.

In people aged 65 years and over, the effects of the flu vaccine may wear off earlier than usual, leaving them at higher risk of a severe illness. This is because as people age and become older, their immune response to vaccines weakens. They may, therefore, be advised to take the vaccine twice a year.

In young healthy adults who take the flu shot every year, the vaccine offers immunity for a full year. However, the potency of the vaccine goes on declining after a few months.

Children 9 years and older and adults, therefore don’t need to take more than one seasonal shot because of this one-year coverage.