By Bob Moos, Southwest public affairs officer for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

It’s that time of year when people come up with all sorts of excuses for not getting a flu shot. Often, though, the excuses catch up with them. So, for the benefit of the naysayers, let’s do a reality check and clear up some mistaken notions.

“Why worry? It’s just the flu.”

Every year, almost 300,000 Americans land in the hospital as a result of the flu and its complications, and more than 20,000 die from flu-related illnesses. Older adults should be especially wary. They will account for 60 percent of the hospital stays and 90 percent of the deaths.

“I got a shot last year. I don’t need another.”

Even if you were vaccinated last year, you still need another shot this year, since your immunity to flu viruses wanes after a year. Also, the types of viruses usually change from season to season, so a new vaccine is made each year to fight that season’s most likely strains.

“Last year’s vaccine was ineffective; why should I think this year’s will work?”

The strains of virus in last year’s vaccine weren’t a good match with the strains that were circulating. So, the vaccine was less than ideal. The government expects that the strains in this year’s vaccine will be a better match and that the vaccine will be more effective.

“I’ll do it later – like after the first of the year.”

The flu season typically begins in October, peaks in January or February and runs through May. If you wait too long, you only increase your risk of catching the flu. Now is the best time to get your vaccination. The vaccine will protect you within two weeks.

“The vaccine will give me the flu.”

If you’re concerned about a serious allergic reaction or some other medical condition that may make the vaccine unsafe for you, you should consult your doctor. Otherwise, it’s important to remember that you can’t get the flu from the flu shot.

Side effects are rare. Most people notice nothing afterward. A few may have sore muscles or a slight fever, but those side effects usually last just a day or two.

“I just don’t like shots.”

There are more ways than ever to get the vaccine, including an intradermal injection that barely punctures the skin and a nasal spray that involves no shots at all. Not all kinds of vaccines can be used in all patients, but your doctor can suggest one that’s a good fit for you.

As flu season gets underway this fall, you’ll want to wash your hands and stay away from sick people to reduce the spread of germs. But as useful as those preventive steps are, the annual vaccine remains the best way to protect yourself against flu viruses.

Vaccine is now available at doctor offices, health clinics, public health departments, pharmacies, college health centers, many employers and some schools.

If you’re enrolled in Medicare Part B, your flu vaccine won’t cost you anything, as long as your doctor, clinic or pharmacy agrees not to charge you more than Medicare pays. There’s no deductible or co-payment for the vaccination.

Older adults are at increased risk of the flu. As people age, their immune system typically weakens and their ability to ward off diseases declines. Moreover, the flu can cause complications for those already struggling with chronic health problems.

Besides the standard-dose vaccine, adults 65 and older now have the option of a higher dose specifically designed to address their age-related declining immunity. The higher-dose vaccine triggers the body to produce more antibodies against flu viruses.

However you choose to be vaccinated, don’t delay. You’ll be protecting not only yourself but also those around you. By avoiding the flu this season, you’ll avoid giving it to your family and friends.