Flu Season 2023-2024: What You Need to Know

Dr. James Grant

| 5 min read

James D. Grant, M.D. is senior vice president and ch...

Young man receives a flu shot in his arm
Fall is a great time to get your influenza shot. However, fewer people are getting flu shots these days. The flu can be a severe (and even deadly) illness – especially among high-risk and vulnerable members of our communities like babies, young children, those with chronic conditions and adults over the age of 65. Although there has been less reported flu activity in the past several years due to many public health measures for COVID-19, some experts are concerned that this will weaken the community’s natural immunity against the flu. This makes the flu shot even more important. Flu shots are recommended every year for individuals ages six months and up. Here’s what you need to know about the flu shot to prepare you and your family this season.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly – whereas common cold symptoms build slowly. Flu symptoms can be like COVID-19 symptoms, so if you’re feeling sick you might want to consider a COVID test. Here are some common flu symptoms:
  • Cough
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills, though not everyone will have a fever
  • Headaches
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults
  • If you’re sick, stay home. Contact a health care provider if you’re concerned about your symptoms.

Are flu shots free?

Flu shots are free to individuals with health insurance. Federal law requires health insurers to cover flu shots without copay or coinsurance. Many clinics will offer flu shots free-of-charge to uninsured individuals who qualify for assistance. Check with your health plan to see where you can get your flu shot for free: some insurance plans only cover the vaccine if it’s administered at a doctor’s office or other specific location.

When is the best time to get the flu shot?

September or October are great times to get vaccinated against the flu before the virus begins to spread where you live. In the best-case scenario, everyone is vaccinated by the end of October.  It takes two weeks for your body to develop antibodies to the flu after being vaccinated. That’s why it’s advised that individuals get vaccinated before flu season peaks to allow your body time to prepare. However, older individuals and young children and infants may need to be vaccinated at different times, as their immune systems are more vulnerable. Talk with your health care provider and ask about the timing of your flu shot.

Can I get the flu shot and a COVID shot at the same time?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance stating that flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines can be given at the same time. Even though both vaccines can be given during the same visit, people should follow the recommended schedule for each vaccine.

When is it too late to get a flu shot?

It’s never “too late” to get a flu shot. Even if you miss getting your flu shot by the end of October, you should still get vaccinated. Flu sicknesses often peak again in February and the virus often spreads until May. 

Does the flu shot make you tired?

Any side effects from a flu shot would likely occur quickly and last a day or two. Common side effects include fatigue, low-grade headache, fever, nausea and muscle aches. Soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given is also common. 

How long do flu shots last?

Experts say the flu shot offers protection for about six months. For individuals aged 65 and older, the flu shot may not offer as long of protection. 

Why do I need a flu shot every year?

The flu shot changes every year. Think of it as a seasonal booster dose, tailor-made to train your body’s immune system to fight the viruses that are circulating now. The vaccine formula is based on a prediction of which strains and types of the virus will provide the best protection for the coming months.

How effective is the flu shot?

Generally speaking, flu shots are quite effective. Getting the shot is the best way to prevent a potentially deadly disease. Vaccines have been proven to lower the risk of severe illness and death resulting from the flu. How well the vaccines work depends on factors including:
  • Age: The flu shot works the best in younger adults and older children and may be less effective in adults over age 65.
  • Virus evolution: The flu virus may mutate and no longer match the makeup of the vaccine.
  • Immunization timing: Flu shots offer protection for up to six months. If you received the flu shot in August, you may not be protected against any peaks in flu activity in the following February, for example.

Where can I get the flu shot?

Flu shots are available at pharmacies, primary care offices, urgent care centers, health departments and clinics. Workplaces, schools and colleges often host vaccination events.  You can find where to get a flu shot by visiting vaccines.gov. James D. Grant, M.D., is chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. More from MIBluesPerspectives.com:
Photo credit: Getty Images 
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