This story appeared in the Midland Daily News. Read more here

Influenza is a contagious illness that can cause you to miss school, work or other important activities. In some cases, it can lead to serious complications, hospitalization or even death. As we head into the fall and winter, getting a flu vaccine is a crucial element to helping you stay healthy.

Q. How does the flu vaccine work?

A. Once the flu vaccine is administered, it triggers your body to form antibodies against the virus. Then, if your body is introduced to the virus after you have mounted that antibody response, your body recognizes the virus and is able to fight it off because it’s got the antibodies to do so.

Q. Who should get the flu vaccine?

A. Everyone older than 6 months of age should receive the flu vaccine, especially high-risk individuals or anyone who may come in contact with high-risk individuals.

Q. Does the flu vaccine actually work?

A. The flu vaccine does work. There is always the question of whether we’ve matched the vaccine up with the strain of the flu virus that will be most dominant this year. Research scientists track the flu virus as it moves across the world each year, looking to see what may be headed our way. Once the strains are identified, we try to make the vaccine effective against the most likely three or four influenza viruses that are circulating. In general, the more people who get vaccinated, the less likely we are to see people getting sick, hospitalized and dying from influenza.

Q. Is it possible to still get the flu if you’ve been vaccinated?

A. There is still a chance that you will get the flu even if you’ve received your flu vaccination. The flu vaccine isn’t perfect – there is a chance that you may be exposed to the flu and get sick. But if you’ve gotten the vaccine, you are much less likely to experience severe symptoms or complications, and it’s much less likely that you’ll need to be hospitalized.

Q. What are some common side effects of the flu vaccine?

A. A common side effect is redness or soreness around the injection site, as well as nausea or body aches. It is important to point out that you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.

Q. Is there a difference in symptoms between a cold, the flu and COVID-19?

A. Cold symptoms are mild, and the common cold tends not to be associated with fever or headache. Congestion and a runny nose are common for a cold and would be uncommon to be the only symptom for influenza, but could be a symptom of a COVID infection. There is significant overlap between the symptoms of influenza and COVID, as both can present fevers, chills, coughs, muscle/body aches, fatigue and headache. The one symptom that is unique to a COVID infection is the loss of taste or smell.