Flu Risks and Chronic Conditions

Path to improved health

You should get the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available each fall. You also can get it any time throughout the flu season (usually until March). It’s best to get it in the fall so that the vaccine can protect you throughout the flu season (about 6 months). In the United States, flu activity peaks between December and February. The vaccine is available by shot or by nasal spray (LAIV4). The CDC recommends that people who have chronic conditions get the flu shot, not the nasal spray flu vaccine.

The vaccine can reduce the chance of hospitalization by 37% and the risk of admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) by 82% for people who have chronic conditions, according to the CDC.

Flu vaccines work by exposing your immune system to an inactive (killed) form of the flu virus. Your body will build up antibodies to the virus to protect you from getting the flu. The nasal spray vaccine contains active but weakened viruses. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot or the nasal spray vaccine.

If you are 65 years of age or older, the CDC recommends that you get either a regular flu shot, a high-dose flu shot, or an adjuvanted flu shot. The high-dose and adjuvanted shots are designed especially for this age group.

Vaccine safety

The flu vaccine is safe. There are very few side effects. After receiving the flu shot, your arm may be sore for a few days. You may have a low-grade fever, feel tired, or have sore muscles for a short time. If you received the nasal spray vaccine, you may have a runny nose, headache, cough, or sore throat.

Where can I get a flu shot?

There are many places that offer flu shots. Where you decide to get a flu shot will likely depend on location and cost.

Flu shots are available from your family doctor, from national pharmacies (such as CVS and Walgreens), at clinics, community health centers, urgent care centers, public health departments, colleges (free for students), some employers, and more.

Cost for the flu shot ranges from free to around $50, depending on whether you have insurance (private insurance, Affordable Care Act, Medicare Part B). If you do have insurance, most of the places listed above will offer you a flu shot at no cost to you.

If you do not have insurance, look for places offering discounted flu shots. Many national pharmacies offer coupons or other discounts for flu shots. Prices vary widely, so shop around. It can mean paying $19 or more than twice that. Look for online coupons, as well, or look for cost comparisons on GoodRx. Also, be prepared to pay up front before receiving the flu vaccination.

If you want help sorting out where to find a flu vaccine near you, there are online tools that can help. Try looking on or VaccineFinder. Both use zip codes to help you narrow the search.

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