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Which flu shot is right for you and your loved ones?



Widespread flu vaccination is intended to protect people who are at risk for serious complications from the virus.
Widespread flu vaccination is intended to protect people who are at risk for serious complications from the virus.
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Southern California broke records last week during a late summer heat wave. But, while it may not feel like it, don't be fooled: flu season is almost upon us.

The basics

The Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone 6 months of age and older get the seasonal flu vaccine. It's designed to protect people against the main flu viruses that are expected to cause the most illness during the upcoming season.

Widespread flu vaccination is intended to protect people who are at risk for serious complications from the virus.

And now is the time to do it. The CDC recommends people get the shot soon after it becomes available, and preferably by October. It takes two weeks for people to develop the antibodies that protect against the flu.

"I would get the flu shot earlier rather than later," said Dr. Shruti Gohil, associate medical director at the University of California, Irvine. The reason: "it affords you protection throughout the flu season," she said.

This year, think of flu shots like hats: There are one-size-fits-all shots, and shots of specific sizes, for specific groups.

Kids

This season, the CDC is recommending a nasal spray flu vaccine for kids ages 2 through 8, who don't have underlying medical conditions.

Recent studies suggest the nasal spray flu vaccine may work better than the flu shot in younger kids, according to the CDC.  Along with being more effective, it's also easier to administer than a shot with a needle, Gohil says.

But Gohil said if the nasal spray isn't available, but the flu shot is, kids should get the shot.

Some kids will need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected. For more information, parents should talk to their pediatrician.

Seniors

Seniors can have weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to the flu, and less capable of developing antibodies against it.

A higher dose flu shot, targeted towards seniors, has been on the market for several years. Dr. Balu Gadhe, an internal medicine physician with CareMore, recommends the higher dose shot to older people who have multiple chronic health issues, and a weak immune system.

He said the higher-dose shot "has not been accepted as the norm for the health care community, because there were not studies that showed it really improved clinical outcomes – until now."

An August article in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that among people 65 years of age and older, the higher dose shot induced a higher level of antibodies in the blood, which translates into increased protection against the flu.

The CDC has "not expressed a preference" for any particular type of flu vaccine for seniors - the agency simply wants that population to get vaccinated.

Gadhe said healthy, active seniors can get the regular shot.

Ready for your flu shot? Check out this handy vaccine finder.

Do you typically get the flu shot? Do you have questions about the flu shot? Tell us about it in the comments section below, or e-mail us at Impatient@scpr.org.