“Side effects are rare, and are mild if they occur.” That’s what the printout they hand you after a flu shot says. This gives you a guilt trip if you admit that the shots usually make you kinda sick. Before retirement, my husband and I used to scoff at people who complained about bad reactions to the flu vaccine. But something happens to your immune system after 80. And yes, the flu shots do have side effects now. Still , you must have them, so here’s how to plan your flu shot.
First, we always wait until November 1st. Pharmacies and grocery stores start advertising free flu shots in September. But since the shots are only effective for three months, that would leave you vulnerable once again around the holidays. Bummer! Can you get a second flu shot? No way. It’s not recommended and your insurance won’t pay for it. The shots don’t reach peak effectiveness until two weeks after you get them, so timing is everything. If you aren’t doing anything much over the holidays, you might even wait until December, so that you have full protection in the coldest winter months.
Now comes the important part of your flu shot plan. Before you get the shot, choose a week where you have few scheduled club meetings, bridge games or social events. No doctor’s appointments or places where you need to be. If you don’t get sick, you can go on as usual. But this way, you won’t have to miss out on an activity just because you are having some side effects.
Finally, if you do feel “off,” take it easy. You may feel extra tired. Or have sore muscles. Maybe you’ll have an upset stomach or diarrhea. Sometimes, you can’t put your finger on what’s wrong, you just know you aren’t feeling too well. Don’t run five miles or swim laps in a cool swimming pool. Settle down with a good book. You will probably feel better in a few days, but it may take about a week before you’re back to your old self again.
If all goes well, a little discomfort will pay off. You won’t get the flu this winter. And if you do, it won’t be your fault for not getting a flu shot.