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Vaccinations, Exercise and the Flu

Ready for your shot?
Ready for your shot?

While drug companies rush to create a vaccine to defeat COVID-19, it can be easy to forget other vaccines protect us against deadly diseases now. More than 330 people died from the flu every day during the 2019-2020 flu season. Getting a flu vaccination could potentially save 132 lives a day, while also keeping tens of thousands of people out of hospitals. Here are some important things to know.

When should you get a flu vaccine?

Doctors say the best time is from September to the middle of November. The older you are, the longer you might consider delaying. The reason is because the effectiveness weakens over time. People over 65 lose their immunity quicker than younger people, and you want it to last until the end of the flu season, around late March or early April. If you got the shot in August, it may start to diminish by the time you entered the peak flu season in January.

On the other hand, it can take two full weeks before peak immunity is reached. That means you want to get it in time for your body to be protected when flu season ramps up. The best window is thought to be around the first couple weeks of November.

Don't worry if you missed the ideal window, even if it's late in the season you should consider getting the shot if you haven't already. The flu does diminish in the spring and summer, but it doesn't completely go away. Ultimately the best time to get a shot is whenever you can find the time to do it.

Will the flu shot protect against COVID-19?

No. There's no evidence that the flu shot can protect against anything other than the flu.

Which flu shot should I get?

There are a few options. Flu shots in the past were designed to protect against three strains of the virus (called trivalent) and some against four (quadrivalent). Even though almost all the shots available today are the quadrivalent type, you should get whichever one is available in your area.

Many doctors offices and pharmacies offer a high-dose version of the shot, that works better for people over 65. You can ask to see if that's available, but most providers will automatically give you the more appropriate one.

Nasal sprays are available, but they have more side effects and they don't work as well for many people. Your doctor or pharmacist will recommend the nasal spray if allergies or other issues prevent you from getting a shot.

Who can get the flu vaccination?

According to the CDC, almost everyone that's older than 6 months can get the shot. The primary warning is for people with severe allergies to ingredients in the vaccine which can include gelatin, antibiotics or egg.

The nasal spray is approved for children over the age of 2 and under the age of 50. But there are several groups of people who are discouraged from taking the spray. Those groups include pregnant women, children from ages 2 to 17 who are receiving aspirin or salicylate-containing medications, people with weakened immune systems or people who are in close contact with severely immunocompromised people.

Can exercise before getting a shot make any difference?

Researchers believe exercise may provide a small boost in effectiveness. Regular exercisers showed higher levels of antibodies (those things that protect you) than non-exercisers. However, even occasional exercisers can benefit.

In a 2007 study, researchers looked at people who lifted weights up to six hours before getting a shot. They compared them with people who didn't exercise at all. A month later, the one-time exercisers had higher levels of protective antibodies than the non-exercisers.

Can I workout after getting a shot?

Yes, but don't push yourself too much. Your immune system is working hard at building antibodies, so overly intense workouts may be counterproductive. A moderate strength training workout or short intervals with longer rest periods would be the most you should attempt. You might also want to skip arms and concentrate on legs, because there might be soreness where you got the injection.

Concerned about getting a vaccine? Think vaccines are dangerous? You should probably watch this video.

For anyone interested in how flu vaccines are developed each year, check this out from the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccine-selection.htm.

Trying to figure out what vaccines you or your children might need? The CDC has this handy tool that can help you figure it out. https://www2a.cdc.gov/vaccines/childquiz/.

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