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What You Need to Know About the 2017 Flu Vaccine

December 27, 2017, 8:51 PM UTC

The 2017-18 flu season is upon us. In fact, we’re well in its midst, since flu season dates can range from October to May. Peak flu season, however, hits between December and February. And, if current numbers are any indication, the U.S. may see a sharp rise in influenza cases as Americans return from the holidays this year in particular.

But it still isn’t too late to get a flu vaccine for this season. Here’s what you need to know about the 2017 flu shot’s effectiveness—and the upcoming sick season in general.

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This year’s flu season

The 2017-18 flu season may turn out be a pretty rough one, if the early trends hold steady. In some regions, cases had risen eight-fold by early December compared with last year and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has noted a high number of cases in 12 states.

Flu seasons are highly unpredictable since the influenza virus can mutate and it’s difficult to gauge which flu strain will dominate in any given year. But there are hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths due to the flu in any given year, according to the CDC.

Effectiveness of flu vaccine

Public health experts widely recommend that you get the flu shot every year, even though its effectiveness may vary. Flu vaccine effectiveness, on average, tends to oscillate somewhere between 40% and 60%; but getting a flu shot is important not just to protect you, but also the people who are most vulnerable to catching the virus, such as older people, children, and people with compromised immune systems.

The CDC says that this year’s flu strains are expected to be mostly similar to last year’s, when the vaccine was 39% effective (a tad behind recent historical norms). The 2017 flu vaccine was created, to some extent, with such considerations in mind. Still, we won’t really know how effective this year’s shot is until the flu season has actually passed. The widespread medical consensus is: Get vaccinated, just in case, since for the vast majority of people there’s no medical or financial downside and plenty of public health upside.

Can I still get a flu shot?

You can still get the current season’s flu vaccine. In fact, you can probably get it for free, either through your employer’s health care program or with insurance at clinics at retail pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS. It’s also not too late to get one if you haven’t yet (even though the ideal time for a flu shot is in the fall, especially since it takes about two weeks to take effect). After all, flu season can stretch well into the spring.

Even if you don’t have an insurance plan that covers flu vaccinations at no cost to you (which the vast majority of people do), you can get a shot for less than $20 out of pocket. Another bit of recent good news? New findings suggest that even Americans with egg allergies can safely get vaccinated for flu (even though most vaccines are made with parts from chicken eggs).