All the Questions You Still Have About the Flu, Answered


As winter continues to be one long snow-sprinkled, rain-soaked, cold season of doom, there’s one sickness that looms over us like a stealthy, snotty (and dangerous) monster: the flu. Here at ELLE.com, we still had so many questions about it: Is it too late to get shots? Can you get the flu from the flu vaccine? To get some answers, we spoke with Dr. Maria Lopez-Cantor, an internal specialist at New York University’s Langone Health, over email.

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Is it too late to get the flu shot?

No! It’s not too late for anyone who can get the vaccine to do so, whether it’s the inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) or the recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV). However, Dr. Lopez says, the CDC doesn’t recommend the nasal spray flu vaccine this season.

Dr. Lopez does recommend getting the vaccine now, if you haven’t already, since flu season usually lasts about 13 weeks and can continue into early spring and sometimes even into May. “The virus is often transmitted at colder temperatures in low humidity,” she explains. However, if you have a life-threatening allergic reaction to the vaccine or any of its ingredients (like egg or gelatin) or you who have Guillain-Barre syndrome, an immune system disorder, you should not get the vaccine.

What about for children and babies?

“Children and babies 6 months and older should get [the vaccine] as it is the best option for protection,” Dr. Lopez says. “Some children 6 months to 8 years of age need two doses of the flu vaccine to adequately protect them.” She says, historically, about 80 percent of children who have died from influenza were not vaccinated. “This 2017-2018 season, 42 states, including District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have reported high influenza-line illness activity and CDC [reported] 63-influenza-related pediatric deaths, so far.”

Should you get the flu shot even if it’s the “wrong” strain?

Basically, yes. You may have heard that this year, the flu shot contains the “wrong” strain. But what does that really mean? According to Dr. Lopez, it refers to whether the vaccine is a good match to the current flu or not. “A good match means that the viruses circulating during a given season and the viruses in the vaccines are closely related and the antibodies produced protects against the infection,” Dr. Lopez says. However, even if there is a “bad” match, the vaccine can still provide some protection.

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The CDC, along with the World Health Organization, make their recommendations for the flu vaccine, and the FDA approves the best option to be produced in the United States. “There is no way that they are able to absolutely determine what exact flu strain will circulate or if there are new viruses that may emerge,” she says.

How can someone who got the flu shot still get the flu?

On average, flu vaccines are about 40-60 percent effective, so out of 100 people who get the vaccine, about 40-60 people will be protected. “So yes, you can get the flu despite the flu vaccine,” Dr. Lopez says. However, even if you do get the flu, the vaccine could help make the symptoms milder.

Can you get the flu from the flu shot?

No, you do not get the flu from the vaccine. “The vaccine contains enough proteins from the shell of weakened virus, and therefore, non-infectious, to trigger an immune response,” Dr. Lopez explains. “The body recognizes [these] proteins as non-self and produces white blood cells to attack the flu virus.” She goes on to say that it normally takes 10-14 days to produce antibodies, so if you get sick right after the vaccination, it’s likely you were exposed to the virus before you were vaccinated. There are also side effects of the flu vaccine, including soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, body aches, and low grade fevers.



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