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The best way to lower your flu risk is to get your yearly flu vaccine.

How effective is the flu vaccine?

Each year, the World Health Organization predicts the most common strains of influenza virus. Vaccines are then made based on the yearly predictions. Generally the flu vaccine boosts your immune system and protects you for four to six months. While the flu vaccine is an excellent line of defence, it cannot protect against every strain of the flu. You may still get sick even if you get your flu vaccine, but symptoms are usually milder.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is recommended for almost everyone 6 months of age or older. Talk to your health care provider or contact the Health Unit if you have questions or concerns. Some people are at a higher risk for developing serious health complications if they get sick with the flu. It is very important for these people and their caregivers to get their yearly flu vaccine.

Groups known to be at a higher risk for developing serious health complications from the flu, include people who:

  • Are older than 65 years of age.
  • Are 6 months to 5 years old.
  • Are of indigenous descent and live in community housing.
  • Are pregnant, are considering pregnancy, have recently given birth, or are breastfeeding.
  • Are morbidly obese (body mass index of 40 or greater).
  • Have chronic heart or lung disorders such as cystic fibrosis or asthma.
  • Live in a long-term care home or other chronic care facility.
  • Have a weakened immune system or medical condition like diabetes, HIV, cancer, anemia, or kidney disease.

Who should not get the flu vaccine?

The following people should not get the flu vaccine:

  • Infants under 6 months of age.
  • Anyone who had a serious allergy to a previous dose or any ingredient in the vaccine (except eggs).
  • Anyone who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of a previous flu vaccination.

If you are not sure whether you should get the flu vaccine, talk to your health care provider.

Please note: If you are currently sick with a fever, it is best if you wait until your symptoms clear up before getting your flu vaccine.

Are there side effects from the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is safe. However, as with any vaccine, it may cause minor side effects, such as:

  • Redness, warmth, or slight swelling at the site of injection.
  • Slight fever or muscle aches 1 to 2 days after getting the vaccine.

Serious reactions are rare. These may include:

  • Red eyes.
  • Paleness, weakness, a fast heartbeat, or dizziness.
  • Hives or a rash.
  • Fever over 39°C.
  • Swelling of the face or mouth.
  • Hoarseness, coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, or trouble breathing.
  • Developing Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS). GBS is a rare disorder in which a person’s own immune system damages their nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. GBS can cause symptoms that usually last for a few weeks but most people fully recover.

Report any serious reactions you experience to your health care provider and the health unit.

Is it possible to get sick with the flu from the flu vaccine?

No, the flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness because the vaccine is made using dead or weakened influenza virus. If you develop minor side effects such as a slight fever or muscle aches, this is a good sign that your body’s immune system is being activated. It can take up to two weeks for your body to develop immunity after getting the flu vaccine. Thus, you can still get sick during this time.

Should my child get the flu vaccine?

Flu outbreaks usually begin with children, who spread it to adults. All children over six months of age should get flu vaccine every year. Everyone living or visiting with a child under six months of age should get their yearly influenza vaccine because this age group cannot be vaccinated.

Is the flu vaccine safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding?

Yes, the flu vaccine is safe at any stage of pregnancy or when breastfeeding. Getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy helps protect you as well as your baby for up to 6 months after they are born. This is because your immune system can provide protection to your unborn baby through the placenta.

How can I get the publically-funded flu vaccine?

In Ontario, the flu vaccine is free from your primary health care provider, participating pharmacies, at many walk-in clinics. People who work, live, or study in Ontario are eligible for the free flu vaccine each year.

Please note: pharmacists only administer the vaccine to individuals five years of age and older.

For more information, contact the Health Unit or speak to your health care provider.

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