With fall in full swing, it’s time to prepare for influenza season. Though often confused with the common cold, influenza is a serious, highly contagious respiratory illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of influenza-related illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths during the 2017-2018 season were the highest since the 2009 pandemic, with a total of 959,000 hospitalizations and 79,400 deaths in the U.S. alone.

In the Northern Hemisphere, influenza activity can begin as early as October or November and can continue to circulate as late as May. Activity in the Southern Hemisphere typically occurs between April and September. Certain populations, including young children and individuals with weakened immune systems are more likely to suffer from serious flu-related complications. To prevent the spread of infection, the CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get the flu vaccine every year.

Here are five reasons to get your annual flu shot:

1. The virus is always changingUnlike other vaccines, the flu shot is needed every year. Because the virus itself is constantly changing each year, the vaccine is formulated to protect against the viruses that are most likely to circulate during the coming season. In addition, vaccines are modified separately for the northern and southern hemispheres, since different strains of the virus prevail in different parts of the world. The body’s immune response to the influenza vaccine also declines over time, so even if you have been previously vaccinated, it’s important to boost your immunity by getting a vaccine every year.

2. Influenza is a serious illness. High fever, difficulty breathing and muscle pain are some of the symptoms commonly linked to influenza infection. Most people who get sick can recover within two weeks, however some may develop serious secondary infections like pneumonia. Because influenza severely hinders our immune response, other life-threatening complications can be triggered, including inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues.

To further demonstrate the dangers of influenza, we look to the past. The 1918 H1N1 influenza virus caused the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century, killing five percent of the world’s population. More recently, the 2009 pandemic affected 60 million people. Pandemic flu occurs when the influenza virus changes, or mutates, to create a new strain of the virus to which most people have no immunity. Experts at the World Health Organization warn that the next flu pandemic is not a matter of ‘if’, but ‘when’ and ‘how serious’.

3. The flu shot is safe. The flu vaccine is safe for almost everyone, including children as young as 6 months old, pregnant women and older adults. Serious reactions to the flu shot are very rare, however mild reactions have been reported by some individuals. The most common side effects are short-term and include soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling at the site of the shot. A few different forms of the flu vaccine exist for different age groups and for people with certain medical conditions. Find out which vaccine is appropriate for you and your family here

4. Vaccines help protect you, your loved ones and your community. When you get vaccinated, you help protect vulnerable members in the community who can’t get vaccinated, including infants, immunocompromised individuals and people with chronic medical conditions. This concept is referred to as community immunity, or herd immunity. In other words, if most people in a given area are vaccinated against a disease, the disease can’t spread, so even those who can’t get vaccinated are protected.

5. You won’t get flu illness from the influenza vaccine. The vaccine cannot cause flu illness. All influenza vaccines are made with killed virus, weakened virus, or parts of the virus that cannot cause infection. However, because it can take two weeks for the vaccine to become protective, there is a possibility for you to develop flu illness before you develop immunity to the vaccine. Although the vaccine does not guarantee complete protection, it can help to reduce the severity of your infection, which means quicker recovery time and fewer sick days!

Still not convinced? Watch this very funny Ballad of Regret from a dad who thought he was too tough for the flu!  

For additional information on the influenza virus and the vaccine, talk to a trusted healthcare provider or visit the CDC’s website.

To prevent the next influenza pandemic, the Sabin Vaccine Institute launched the Influenzer Initiative, a collective of creative thinkers across diverse industries including science, engineering and technology, to accelerate the development of a universal influenza vaccine. Help shape the future of health by becoming an influenzer today.