The best time to get a flu shot is right now. Flu season started in October and will last until May, but the disease peaks from December to March. During these months, flu levels throughout the United States will circulate at their highest. The best way to guard against the flu and all its effects during this time is by getting a seasonal flu shot.

Aside from the misery that comes from the flu itself, the virus can have deadly complications including pneumonia and sepsis. Those especially at risk for such complications include children under 5 years old, people over 65, and those with other pre-existing conditions. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year for conditions associated with seasonal flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC advises almost everyone over the age of six months, with rare exception, to get vaccinated against it.

The seasonal flu vaccine is available in either a shot or a nasal spray, though the CDC has advised against the nasal spray this season because it won’t be as effective as the shot. Despite common misconceptions, the flu can’t be contracted from the vaccination itself, because the viruses in the shot are inactivated, or killed. Minor side effects can, however, include low-grade fever, aches, or swelling at the injection site.

Flu shots are available for free for those with insurance, or at low cost for those without it. Those with insurance can head to their local doctor for a free vaccination. Many local health departments also offer the shot, primarily for those at higher risk of contracting the flu. Employers have increasingly started offering the shot to prevent their employees from becoming sick. For the uninsured, the best bets for a cheap vaccination are large companies like Wal-Mart. Costco offers the cheapest version, at around $15 per shot.

For a more specific list of available vaccination sites, the government offers a vaccination locator at www.vaccinefinder.org.