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'What Is the Flu Shot?'

By Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RNOctober 28, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

Flu season has arrived, and you may have seen signs urging everyone to get a flu shot.

So what is the flu shot, exactly?

The flu shot is a vaccination that helps your body make the necessary antibodies it needs to fight off the influenza virus if you happen to get infected by it. Most flu shots contain influenza viruses that have been inactivated, so they can’t infect you. Your immune system recognizes those inactive viruses as invaders, though, and creates antibodies to destroy similar-looking active virus cells if they appear in your body again.

Because the flu comes in many different varieties, the most common flu shot in the U.S. protects you against four strains of influenza. Some flu shots also contain ingredients called adjuvants that create a stronger immune response, and flu shots for people over age 65 come in a high dose version to stimulate the immune system even more.

The flu shot usually is given by injection into the upper arm. It’s a quick, relatively painless procedure. Pro tip: Shake out and dangle your arm to relax it before and during the shot, and then keep your arm moving all day to minimize discomfort.

And if you just can’t stand the thought of an injection, ask about getting the mist-based version of the flu “shot” instead. A health care professional will spray this mist up your nostrils -- BOOM! You’re vaccinated. That said, the flu mist may not be as easy to find as the flu shot. Call ahead to find out if your doctor's office or clinic offers it.

Some people should talk to their doctors before getting a flu shot. For example, people with a severe gelatin allergy or those with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome might be advised to avoid the influenza vaccine. Your doctor can give you specific advice. This year, in particular, it’s vital that everyone who can get a flu shot get one because you become much more susceptible to COVID-19 if you are sick with the flu. And getting sick with both influenza and COVID-19 at the same time could be deadly. So do yourself a favor by getting your flu shot as soon as possible.




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