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The flu vaccine – your questions answered

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

We've been sitting in our offices recently and getting many questions about the flu vaccine. The roll-out happens yearly, and many people are up-to-date with most of the general information surrounding it. Now and again, we get asked questions that keep us on our toes, and we've collated these here for your information.

First is how long it takes to gain protection after vaccination. Like all vaccinations, the flu shot works by stimulating the immune system into a defense response. This does take time: science suggests it can take 1 to 2 weeks until you are fully protected. Getting your vaccination early will ensure you are protected as soon as possible.

Doctor’s advice

Can I get other vaccines at the same time?

The flu vaccine used to be unique in requiring yearly doses. The COVID-19 vaccines have changed that - you may be offered a COVID-19 booster and a flu shot simultaneously. Can you have them both together? Yes - the experts have deemed it safe and effective to receive both simultaneously.

The pneumococcal vaccine is offered as a one-time dose for adults with certain health conditions or those over 65. This is also fine to have at the same appointment as your flu shot and protects against a particular type of pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis.

Your doctor, practice nurse, or pharmacist can advise you about any other vaccines you're considering, such as travel vaccines.

How long does the flu vaccine last?

Each year, the flu vaccine is made to target the specific flu strains that are likely to cause trouble. Viruses constantly change and evolve, so our vaccines have to as well. On top of that, immunity can wane.

Fighting the flu is a worldwide effort. As flu is active in the autumn and winter, we in the northern hemisphere share information with those countries in the southern hemisphere about active flu virus strains, as they have their winter 6 months before (or, indeed, after) us here in the US.

After receiving your flu shot, it takes 1 to 2 weeks to build protection, then you will get peak protection for that season for around 3 to 4 months. So it's worth getting your flu vaccine early enough in the season to give you maximum protection. This applies especially from December to February, the coldest months and the time we're most likely to be cozy and warm together indoors - perfect for droplets to spread in coughs and sneezes.

What age can you get the flu shot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone over 6 months get a yearly flu vaccine. They are particularly important for those vulnerable if they get the flu, including the frail or elderly, certain long-term health conditions, and pregnant women.

Children are at particular risk of getting very unwell from the influenza virus, causing bronchitis and pneumonia, so put it on your priority list.

What about allergies?

A common question pops up regularly regarding egg allergy. This is because some flu vaccines are made by replication in egg embryos. Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist for a low-egg or egg-free vaccine.

If there are other constituents of vaccines that you have had allergic reactions to in the past, it would be best to discuss this with your doctor. It may still mean it's safe to have it, but other options exist, such as having it in a more medically controlled environment.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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