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It's flu shot time. Here's how and why to get one

·4 min read
SAN FERNANDO , CA - OCTOBER 16: Licensed Vocational Nurse Theresa Jackson, left, gives a flu shot to Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner, right, at San Fernando Middle School. L.A. Unified is offering free flu shots to students and their families through Health Net to forestall a twindemic of COVID-19 combined with flu season on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020 in San Fernando , CA. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Licensed Vocational Nurse Theresa Jackson gives a flu shot to then-Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner at a free flu shot clinic in October 2020. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The majority of eligible Californians have received a COVID shot. But the vaccine fun isn't over yet. That's right: It's time to get your flu shot.

Yes, you should get one, even if you're still working from home. Flu cases were at an all-time low in the 2020-2021 season thanks in large part to social distancing. But kids are back in school, mask and stay-at-home restrictions have been lifted in some areas, and lots of people — vaccinated and otherwise — have gotten more comfortable with going out and socializing than they were a year ago. And in some parts of the country, hospitalization levels are the same or higher than they were this time last year.

Last year, experts feared a "twindemic" of flu and coronavirus that didn't come to pass. But it's still a possibility this time around, said Dan Uslan, a clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the cochief infection prevention officer at UCLA Health.

"This is going to be a particularly challenging year because no one has any idea what to expect in terms of the flu season," Uslan said. The southern hemisphere just had a light flu season, which suggests our coming one could be light as well. But the decreased social distancing compared to last year means we could see flu come roaring back here. Hospitals can be stretched thin by sick patients in a normal flu season, Uslan said, so stacking that on top of a COVID caseload that's overwhelming caregivers in some areas is a recipe for disaster. Already, people with critical conditions unrelated to COVID have died waiting for hospital space to open up. Getting a flu shot is a free, easy way to help prevent that from happening to you.

"It's critically important to get a flu shot this year," Uslan said. "More important than ever."

Here's what you need to know about the inoculations.

Who should get the flu shot? If you're reading this, you. The CDC recommends them for everyone age 6 months and older, with very few exceptions. Pregnant women, older adults, young children and people with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of complications if they catch the flu, so it's particularly important people in those groups get the shot.

Do I need to wait to get a flu shot if I recently got a COVID vaccine or booster? No. The CDC says the vaccines can be given at the same time.

How well does this year's flu shot work? Flu vaccine composition changes yearly based on which strains experts predict will be dominant. But we can't know yet how well the predictions will stack up against reality; "We never really do until after the flu season is over," Uslan said. Broadly speaking, flu shots are about 40-60% effective at preventing illness.

Can I get the flu from the flu shot? No. Flu shots are made with inactive versions of the virus. Because now is the start of flu season, a small number of people will catch the flu around the time they get the shot, but they didn't catch it from the vaccine.

Is it free, like the COVID vaccine? Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance policies have to cover the entire cost of flu shots, so if you have insurance, the shots can be free. But your insurer might pay the full cost only at certain locations. Call your insurance provider (there's a number on the back of your card) and ask.

How do I get my flu shot? You've got lots of options. Your local pharmacy may already have them in stock, and most places will take walk-ins. You can always call ahead of time and ask if they're available.

You can also ask your doctor's office if you're going in for any kind of appointment.

Your insurer may offer flu shot appointments or walk-in clinics. Call the number on the back of your insurance card and ask.

Another option: Call 211 and ask for information on flu shot availability and clinics in your area.

Are you hosting a free flu shot clinic or event in Southern California this fall? Email utility@latimes.com to have it added to this story.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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