As flu season is around the corner, health officials are reminding people to get vaccinated at the right time to get the maximum protection against the influenza virus that affects thousands of people in the U.S. every year.

When Is the Right Time to Get a Flu Shot?

Although influenza vaccines are available from July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people above the age of 65 and pregnant women in the first or second trimester avoid getting vaccination during that time unless they cannot get the shot later in the season.

"For most persons who need only one dose of influenza vaccine for the season, vaccination should ideally be offered during September or October. However, vaccination should continue after October and throughout the season as long as influenza viruses are circulating and unexpired vaccine is available," the CDC said in a news release last week.

"Certain children aged 6 months through 8 years need two doses; these children should receive the first dose as soon as possible after the vaccine is available, including during July and August. Vaccination during July and August can be considered for children of any age who need only one dose for the season and for pregnant persons who are in the third trimester during these months if the vaccine is available," the agency added.

The flu vaccines for the 2023-24 season are quadrivalent (targets protection against four different flu viruses).

Why Are Flu Shots Important?

Reduce the Severity of the Flu

People who take flu shots have 40% to 60% reduced risk of going to the doctor with flu. As vaccine reduces the severity of infection, those who take flu shots are at 31% lower risk of death from flu when compared with the unvaccinated.

Reduce Flu-Related Hospitalizations

According to CDC reports, flu shots curbed around 7.5 million influenza illnesses and 105,000 flu-related hospitalizations in 2019-2020. It is estimated that around 650,000 people can die of the flu every year around the world.

Prevent Complications for People with Chronic Diseases

Studies have shown that flu vaccines act as a protective tool to prevent complications in people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, lung disease and heart conditions.

Can Be a Lifesaver for Children

Flu shots can significantly reduce children's risk of dying from flu. A 2022 study shows getting a flu shot reduces children's risk of getting severe life-threatening influenza by 75%.

Help Protect Vulnerable People

Flu shots protect not only the individuals who take them but also those who are vulnerable to serious infections.

Who Should Get a Flu Shot?

CDC recommends that everyone above the age of 6 months, with rare exceptions, should get flu vaccine every season. The exceptions include children younger than 6 months, people with life-threatening allergic reactions to vaccine ingredients and people with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a rare condition that results in severe paralysis.

"With few exceptions, the guidelines internationally (and from CDC in the U.S.) are that all people above 6 months of age should be vaccinated annually against the flu, and infants younger than 6 months are protected by a vaccine given to the parent during pregnancy," Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist and faculty member at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health, told Medical Daily.

Myths and Facts About Flu Shots

Myth No. 1: You Don't Need Flu Shots Every Year

Fact: As the body's immune response reduces over time and the virus mutates every season, it is important to take a flu shot every year. The flu shots are revised annually to include protection against the influenza viruses that are expected to circulate in the upcoming flu season.

"It's very important to stay up to date with flu vaccines because the flu is a virus that constantly mutates and changes, and thus your protection from a shot will wane over time. Annual flu vaccines update your protection against the flu viruses likely to be most common in the upcoming flu season," Wallace said.

Myth No. 2: Flu Shots Give You the Flu

Fact: Flu shots are made of inactivated viruses so you can't catch the flu from the vaccine.

"This is a very common misconception. There is no live virus in a flu vaccine that can infect you. Flu shots are made using either inactivated viruses or without flu virus at all (in the recombinant vaccines). So, you cannot get flu from a flu shot!" Wallace explained.

Myth No. 3: Flu Shots Are Unsafe for Pregnant Women and People with Chronic Conditions

Fact: Flu shots during pregnancy can protect both the mother and the infant. They reduce the risk of complications in people with chronic conditions.

"Vaccinating people while pregnant helps protect them from flu illness and hospitalization, and also has been shown to protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth before the baby can be vaccinated," Wallace said.

Myth No. 4: Flu Shots Give You Side Effects Worse Than Flu

Fact: Many people fear flu shots more than the complications from the flu, but the side effects of flu shots are less severe and do not last long.

"Side effects that may occur after the flu vaccine are mostly minor and short-term such as soreness, redness and/or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever or body aches. These are reactions to your immune system building immunity and is totally normal!" Wallace clarified.