The flu is a general description for various upper respiratory diseases caused by different strains of the influenza virus. Common symptoms include fever, aches, congestion and a cough. Although most people are able to recover after a week or two, complications can result in infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. This accounts for as many as 49,000 flu-related deaths each year.

Even for people under no risk of death, the flu represents a huge inconvenience and lost income from missed work. No one wants to get sick if they can avoid it. According to the Center for Disease Control, the best way to prevent the flu is to receive an annual flu vaccine.

How Flu Vaccines Work

Viruses do not respond to antibiotics. As such, there is no way to cure viral diseases once they have been contracted. The symptoms can be treated, but the only way to recover from a virus is to wait until the human body has produced enough antibodies to combat it. Once your body has developed an immunity to the virus, you will become resistant to it in the future.

Vaccines work on this principle. They are made from a killed or weakened strain of the virus, which is then injected into the recipient. The patient’s own immune system then attacks the weakened virus, which causes immunity to build against the virus itself. This will inoculate the patient against that virus in the future.

Most vaccines, like that for polio, need only to be administered once to be effective. Some vaccines require routine “boosters” to ensure that the body continues making antibodies against the vaccine. In the case of the flu vaccine, a yearly vaccination is necessary. This is because there are multiple types of influenza virus, and they adapt very quickly. The influenza getting passed around in schools this year is not the same as the one last year, and fresh immunizations are the only way to avoid the risk of contracting the flu.

Where to Get a Flu Vaccine

There are multiple places to get a flu shot. In addition to scheduling an appointment with your own doctor, you can also go to a public health clinic for the vaccine. Additionally, many pharmacies offer flu vaccines. This makes them extremely convenient as you can walk in and receive the shot without needing to be referred by a doctor or spend a lot of time waiting. Some large employers may also provide flu shots to their employees through the use of mobile vaccine providers.

The shots are usually very affordable, costing anywhere from $15 to $30. Different vaccines will have different formulas, so it’s a good idea to ask which strains are being inoculated against and do some research in advance to confirm they’ll be strong enough to suit your needs.

It’s currently recommended that young children, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses or other medical conditions receive an annual flu shot. People working in service industries or medical professions should also strongly consider getting these shots as they will help provide a first line of defense against potential infections. On the other hand, people who may be allergic to the shot should avoid it. Some people are also concerned about the mercury content in certain vaccines. This is something that should be discussed with your doctor before receiving a flu shot.

Are Flu Shots Covered by Insurance?

Flu shots are considered to be preventative care. As such, they are now required to be covered by health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Other vaccinations are also covered, including the HPV vaccine and inoculations against measles and other infectious diseases. This was not always the case, but it is required under law now. Therefore, even if your insurance did not cover flu vaccines in the past, you should be able to receive coverage for these vaccines now.

It is still a good idea to contact your insurance company to confirm whether all vaccines are covered or if only those from specific providers can be paid for. For example, you may be limited to receiving a vaccine from in-network doctors or pharmacies. Understanding whether any limitations are in place will prevent you from paying out of pocket unnecessarily.

If you do not have health insurance, it may still be worthwhile to receive a flu vaccine. These shots are affordable and will cost less than the medication and missed work required to deal with the flu virus itself. Even if you choose not to obtain the vaccine, you will fully understand your options so that an informed decision can be made.