I updated this post in January 2020.
If you work for yourself, the flu vaccine may be the only thing standing between you and two to three weeks without pay. The flu is not a cold; you will be miserable. So, freelancers, please get your flu shot.
Mid-winter is not too late to get your flu shot. The flu typically runs through mid-May. During the 2017–2018 flu season, there was high flu activity in January and February, continuing through the end of March, making it one of the longest flu seasons in recent years.
Remember when you were an employee with paid sick days? You may have felt the hint of a mild cold or sinus infection and suddenly, “That’s it! I’m calling in sick.” You’d spend the day savoring your alone time and getting sucked into online videos or watching bad daytime talk shows. But now that you’re a freelancer or independent contractor, you only get paid if you do the work. You might start to see signs of the zombie apocalypse outside and you’d still be thinking, “I have to write that 2,000-word feature article and bang out those three blog posts before I can even think about boarding up the house.”
Fortunately, the situation is not quite so dire. But it is flu season, and a bad influenza attack can knock you out for up to a week. You might miss deadlines, and you won’t get paid. And you also won’t feel up to doing all those things freelancers must do to secure future gigs and income: brainstorming, networking, pitching.
I’m not a medical professional, and I’m not offering medical advice. But I’ve been a health writer for about 20 years, catching the health advocacy bug when I was hired at the American Public Health Association. I trust public health workers, and, believe me, they don’t get rich promoting vaccines. (When was the last time you saw a county health nurse driving a Lexus?)
Here are some flu facts:
- The flu season typically runs from October 1 through mid-May, usually peaking in February.
- The flu is not just an annoyance or similar to a cold. You will feel awful for several days and will not feel up to working, doing chores or taking care of your kids. In recent years, 12,000 to 56,000 people died in the U.S. from the flu. By mid-December 2019, there had been at least 4.6 million flu illnesses, 39,000 hospitalizations and 2,100 deaths from flu.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu vaccine for everyone in the U.S. ages 6 months and older. Besides a shot, the FluMist nasal spray is also an option for people ages 2 through 49 who are not pregnant.
- Flu vaccines are covered by most health insurance plans. And if they’re not, they usually cost only about $30.
- The flu shot is recommended for all pregnant women and can be given safely in any trimester. This means if you find out you’re pregnant in March, toward the end of the flu season, you should still get the shot. I spent eight years as an editor/writer at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, where I learned that pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to the flu, which can also harm their babies. Plus, if a pregnant woman gets the shot, it offers some protection to her baby, which is important because babies younger than 6 months old cannot get the flu shot.
- The Fluzone High-Dose might offer more protection for people 65 and older; older people are often more vulnerable to the dangers of the flu.
You can’t get the flu from the flu shot
I’ll end with addressing my biggest pet peeve: those who claim they got the flu from the flu shot. This is scientifically impossible. The flu shot is made with a dead virus and cannot give you the flu. Now, you might get the shot and have a sore arm or a slight fever. And, there is also a small risk of a vaccine reaction.
It can take up to two weeks for the flu shot to take effect, and no vaccine is 100 percent effective, so you may still get the flu (perhaps a milder case)—but you didn’t get the flu from the vaccine. You might also catch a winter cold or another virus; the vaccine doesn’t protect against that.
By getting a flu vaccine every year, you aren’t only protecting your paycheck, you’re protecting your relatives, your neighbors and your community, too. No vaccine is perfect, so the more people who get the vaccine, the more protection it offers the general population. This is called herd immunity or community immunity.
In recent years I’ve received my flu shot from Target, CVS and Walgreens. All were similar in process—it took less than 20 minutes, it was free with my insurance and I swear it didn’t hurt.
So, please, roll up your sleeve.