If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, it’s not too late. In fact, now is a perfect time: The CDC recommends that everyone six months or older get their annual flu shot by the end of October. And be sure to get it while you’re still feeling healthy: The vaccination takes two weeks to build up immunity against the virus, so if you haven’t been exposed to the flu yet this season, your body has time to develop antibodies.
According to Dr. Katherine Miao, the medical director of CityMD Urgent Care in New York City, it’s never truly too late to get the shot. While winter is considered flu season, because the virus lasts longer and replicates more easily in the cold weather, the flu, unfortunately, is an illness that you’re susceptible to any time of year. We spoke with Miao about everything we need to know about getting the vaccination this year.
How the flu shot works
Miao explains that the flu shot contains an “inactivated virus,” to “prime your immune system” so it can build up antibodies to prepare it in case of a later exposure to the virus. She likens it to training your body: “Oh, I’ve played this guy before, I know how he plays.”
A flu shot takes about five minutes and is typically free with insurance, and you can get one at a doctor’s office, via walk-ins at CityMD, even at pharmacies like CVS. Without insurance, it usually costs around $30.
Why you can’t get the flu from the flu shot
A common misconception is that getting a flu shot can put you at risk of contracting the flu. Miao explains that it’s perfectly normal to feel a little achy or run down a few days after your appointment, but you can’t actually catch the flu from the shot because it contains an inactivated virus.
Other ways to stay healthy in the winter
Miao describes the flu as an “unseen, unheard” disease, with germs that can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours — she uses the buttons on an ATM machine as an example. In addition to getting a flu shot, you should be vigilant about washing your hands.
And if you are experiencing symptoms — typically, fever, chills, body aches, cough, and headache — you should stay home to the best of your abilities, Miao advises, so that you can recuperate and keep from infecting others. Take a sick day from work, and if you can, stay away from busy public places like the subway and the grocery store. If you are out in the world and have to cough or sneeze, do it into your elbow.