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Doctors: Get a flu shot


Physicians of the Massachusetts Medical Society are adding their voice to those of other health officials in urging everyone to get vaccinated for this flu season.

 “Vaccines are one of the miracles of medicine,” says Lynda Young, M.D., President of the Medical Society and a practicing pediatrician in Worcester, “and we should take every opportunity to use these powerful preventive measures. It’s a proven, safe, easy way to protect our personal health, as well as our public health.”

Dr. Young further explained that the more people who get immunized, “the greater the immunity that is built up within a given community. It is particularly important for children under 5 and the elderly, two of the groups most at risk from the flu. And we shouldn’t underestimate this illness; it can be widespread and have serious health consequences.”

To remind residents about aspects of this seasonal illness, Dr. Young and her colleagues from the Medical Society offer this QandA:    

How serious can the flu be?

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness that causes up to 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations annually. Lost work time and added hospital and health care costs add to the impact of this disease.     

How is the flu spread?

It’s spread from person to person, principally by droplets from coughing, sneezing, or talking. People with the flu can also infect someone else before feeling sick, as the virus can spread one day before symptoms develop, and spread up to a week or more after getting sick.  

What complications from the flu can arise?

Pneumonia is a common complication, as are ear and sinus infections and dehydration. People with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, or congestive heart failure, may see those conditions get worse, posing serious threats to health. And no, you can’t get the flu from a flu shot.

Who should get vaccinated?

Everyone six months and older should get a flu shot every year, especially those in high-risk groups: pregnant women; children under 5; those 50 and older; anyone with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart conditions; people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities; and those who live with or care for those at high risk. Health care workers should also be immunized.   

When should I get a flu shot?  

The sooner the better. It takes about two weeks after the shot for your body to develop an immune response. Getting vaccinated quickly is best for children who are being protected for the first time, because they need two doses at least four weeks apart.

Should anyone not be vaccinated?

Children less than six months of age should not be vaccinated. People with allergies to chicken eggs (the source of vaccines), those who’ve had a severe reaction to prior vaccinations, and people with Guillain-Barré syndrome (an immune system disorder) should check with their physician.

What are the best preventive measures?

Vaccination offers the best protection. The flu shot with a needle is approved for people 6 months and older; nasal-spray vaccines, for healthy people age 2 to 49 who are not pregnant. Good hygiene habits, like washing hands often or using hand sanitizers, are also important. Control the spread of germs by coughing or sneezing into your arm, keep children home if they’re sick, don’t go to work if you’re sick, and don’t share items, like glasses or cups that can spread germs and viruses.

Where can I get a shot?

Plenty of vaccine is available, but some board of health flu clinics in communities may be eliminated because of budgetary cutbacks. Check with your physician or local board of health to see when and where flu vaccine and clinics will be available.

Where can I find more information?

The Mass. Department of Public Health ( and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control ( have lots of free information on their websites.