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Preparing for the winter: Should you get the flu vaccine?

Nov 28, 2011, 9:44 a.m.

Winter is now upon us -- with a vengeance in many areas of the United States. Along with winter comes the inevitable flu outbreaks. Whether it is your coworker, your child, or the lady who checks you out at the grocery store, somebody around you probably has either had the flu, has it right now, or will be getting it soon. However, nobody has to get the flu from you, and you don't have to leave yourself open to catching it either.

The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that "Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine." Government agencies are bending over backwards to encourage people to get the vaccine: Even if you don't have insurance, your local government probably has a free or highly discounted program available to help you get one. We know that people are constantly bombarded with "Go Get Your Flu Vaccine" messages, but you may have heard some cons about the vaccine and feel hesitant. Here are the facts about the vaccine.

Who Should Get It

The vaccine is meant for everyone over 6 months old, but certain people may need it more urgently than others due to their weaker immune systems or their regular exposure to people who may be ill. These groups include children and young people from 6 months to 18 years old, adults 50 or older, pregnant women or those who have recently given birth, the morbidly obese, anyone who resides in a nursing home, hospital, or long term care facility, anyone with an immune system disorder, anyone who has a family member with flu, and caregivers like doctors and nurses. The vaccine takes around two weeks to get established in your system and begin working.

Do I Really Have To Have It?

Of course, you don't have to get it if you have an absolute opposition to it. You may have a fear of needles, for example. Never fear: The needle is small and thin enough that it's usually over before you expect it! It is rare for people to feel pain from a flu vaccine, but you may feel some slight tenderness in the area for a day or so afterwards. You may have heard that the flu vaccine "makes you sick." The vast majority of people don't have a reaction to the vaccine, but as with any medication or treatment, there are always the rare cases where someone becomes ill.

If you still feel unsure about whether you need to get the vaccine, your best weapon against flu, next to the flu vaccine is your own doctor. Discuss it with your doctor and find out how insistent he or she is about you getting it. Yes, it may make you feel a bit like a grade schooler listening to a strict teacher again, but you will at least be assured of getting medical advice from a doctor you know and trust!

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