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Flu Vaccine information

Common questions and information about the flu vaccine.

Influenza vaccine is the best way to prevent illness. Because the strains of influenza that are circulating change, a person needs a flu vaccine every year.

For this winter season (2022-2023), the Boston Public Health Commission is offering free, walk-in flu vaccination for people of all ages in various neighborhoods. No insurance or ID is needed at these sites. Their locations and hours of operation are listed below. Get yourself and your family vaccinated today!

Getting your flu vaccine

The flu vaccine is available in a variety of ways. Most options are completely covered by health insurance. Additionally, two free walk-in clinic for all ages are: 

Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building
2300 Washington St, Roxbury, MA 02119
Tuesdays through Saturdays: 12 - 8 p.m.

Lena Park Community Center
150 American Legion Hwy, Dorchester, MA 02124
Sundays: 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Mondays: 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Wednesdays: 12 - 7 p.m.
Fridays: 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Health Care Provider

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of a flu vaccine from your primary care provider without a co-pay.

Pharmacies

Many pharmacies offer flu vaccines at no cost to patients. Due to COVID-19, many pharmacists in Massachusetts can now vaccinate people 3 years and older. We recommend you call ahead to confirm availability and required documentation.

Vaccine Vouchers

If you do not have health insurance, or if co-pays are a barrier, call the Mayor’s Health Line at 617-534-5050 or toll free at 800-847-0710. We offer vouchers for free flu vaccines through the Mayor’s Health Line. Vouchers are available to uninsured or underinsured adults. Redeem vouchers at any Walgreens pharmacy. 

For questions about the flu or flu vaccines, call the Infections Disease Bureau at 617-534-5611. Calls are free and confidential. 

The Basics

Who should get the flu vaccine?
Anyone 6 months of age or older should get a flu vaccine. The vaccine is especially important for people at high risk of serious flu complications. High risk people include:

  • Young children
  • Pregnant women
  • People who are 65 years and older
  • People with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart, and lung disease

Do I need to get a flu vaccine this year if I was sick with the flu last year?
After recovering from flu, you have protection against only that one strain of flu. But, since there are many other strains, it is possible to get flu again. A flu vaccine is the only way to protect yourself against all 3-4 strains expected to circulate.

Will a person have better immunity if they get the flu rather than the vaccine? 
A person will gain immunity against the flu after getting a vaccine or in some cases after they recover from the flu. It is important to remember that the flu can cause very serious illness in some people. The risk from getting a vaccine is much less than the risk of getting sick with the flu.

Can a person get flu from the flu vaccine?
No, the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. The vaccine takes two weeks to provide full protection against the flu. It is important to use other prevention methods such as washing your hands and staying away from those who are sick during that time. Many people confuse the flu with cold symptoms since both flu and cold seasons are at the same time. The best way to protect yourself from illness is by getting the flu vaccine and practicing prevention methods.

Risks and Side Effects

What are the risks of the flu vaccine?
Most people do not have a problem with the vaccine. Side effects may occur, but severe reactions are very rare. The following are possible side effects that may occur, ranging from mild to severe.

Mild side effects (usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days):

  • A sore arm, swelling, and/or redness at the injection site
  • Sore, itchy red eyes, cough, or hoarseness​
  • Fever, aches, headache, fatigue, itching

Moderate side effects:

  • Getting a flu and pneumonia vaccine at the same time can put young children at risk for seizures caused by fever. Ask your health care provider for more information and tell your doctor if your child has ever had a seizure before getting your child vaccinated.

Severe side effects:

  • Life-threatening allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare. If they do occur, it’s normally within a few minutes to a few hours after getting the vaccine. Minimize the risk by telling your health care provider if you have any severe allergies, including to eggs, or if you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to vaccines.

What should I do in the rare case I have a severe reaction?
Call a health care provider and seek treatment immediately if you have a severe reaction within hours of getting a flu vaccine. Symptoms of a severe reaction include high fever, change in behavior, difficulty breathing,  hives, and feeling weak or dizzy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

FAQs

Vaccination offers the best protection against influenza! Influenza appears in Boston every year causing illness in thousands of people. Each year a new flu vaccine protects against the top three to four strains of influenza expected to circulate in the community. Since the strains change each year, staying protected means getting a vaccine every year.

Yes, influenza is unpredictable and can be severe. Between 1976 and 2006, CDC estimates that from 3,000 to 49,000 people died each year of complications from influenza. 

A flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. Medical recommendation is for everyone 6 months and older to get the vaccine. A person needs to get a flu vaccine every year for protection. 

Influenza activity in the Boston area is usually highest from October through March. Getting a vaccine early in the flu season can provide longer protection against the virus. However, vaccines are available all season. Adults and older children will only need one dose of vaccine for protection; some children under 9 will need two doses. Check with your health care provider to make sure.

Influenza vaccines cannot give you the flu. However, you should keep in mind that it takes two weeks after getting vaccinated to be fully protected against the flu. Be sure to take other precautions against getting the flu during this time.

How can I prevent the spread of flu? 
There are many ways you can help prevent the spread of germs. In addition to getting the flu vaccine, follow these tips:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue every time you cough or sneeze. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Clean surfaces in your home regularly with a household cleaner
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick when possible
  • If you become sick, stay home. Stay at home for 24 hours after your fever has gone away without the use of fever reducing medicine. For most people, this will be a minimum of 4 days

Ask your health care provider for a flu vaccine or find a retail pharmacy offering flu vaccines near you. Please note that pharmacists in Massachusetts can only vaccinate those who are 18 years old and older. Please call ahead to confirm the pharmacy has vaccines available.

Vaccine myths and facts

Myths and facts

Fact 1: Hand washing and clean water are important to stop the spread of many diseases. However, many infections can still spread regardless of how clean we are. Vaccination is essential to stop the spread of infectious diseases. If people are not vaccinated, uncommon diseases, such as measles, can come back.

Fact 2: Vaccines are very safe. Vaccines go through thorough testing for years before approval for public use. vaccine monitoring continues after public approval. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System is a national program that monitors reactions to vaccines. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System ensures that the benefits of vaccines far outnumber the risks. Most vaccine reactions are minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever. Serious health events due to vaccines are extremely rare.

Fact 3: There is no evidence that these vaccines cause SIDS. Ninety percent of SIDS cases occur before an infant reaches the age of 6 months. The rate of SIDS is highest between 1 and 4 months of age. Unfortunately, this is the age when children receive their DTaP and polio vaccines. SIDS deaths are co-incidental to vaccination. These deaths would occur with or without these vaccines.

Fact 4: Many vaccine preventable diseases are uncommon in the United States. But, these diseases still exist in the rest of the world. Measles, for example, is still common in some countries in Europe, Asia, the Pacific, and Africa. In 2014, there was a large outbreak of measles at the Disneyland theme park in California. Unvaccinated people made up the majority of those who got measles. Measles is very contagious and spreads easily among unvaccinated people. Vaccines can protect us at home or when we are on vacation from diseases that we may not know are around us.

Fact 5: There is no evidence that simultaneous vaccines hurt a child's immune system. Children face daily exposure to hundreds of foreign substances that can cause an immune response. Offering multiple vaccines at once decreases the number of clinic visits. This saves time and money. Combined vaccination is also less painful to children. In the case of MMR, it means fewer injections.

Fact 6: Influenza is a serious disease. The flu affects hundreds of people in Boston each year. Pregnant women, small children, the elderly, and those with chronic conditions, are at higher risk for severe illness from flu. It is important for pregnant women to get the vaccine. Mothers need to protect their newborns since there is no vaccine for babies under six months of age. The vaccine protects against the 3-4 strains of flu expected to circulate in a particular year.

Fact 7: Some vaccines contain thimerosal. Thimerosal is an organic, mercury-containing compound used as a preservative. It is most often used in multi-dose vials. Studies show that thimerosal is safe, and the amount used in vaccines does not cause a health risk.

Fact 8: No. There is no evidence to link vaccines and autism.

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