November signals the beginning of two important seasons, the holidays and the less cheerful flu season. While both involve red noses, only one is jolly. To avoid getting the flu this year you can protect yourself by getting a flu shot but there are a few things to know before heading to get one.

When to get a flu shot:

It takes about two weeks for the antibodies to develop in your body to protect you from the flu. If you want to get the shot it’s best to do so before the flu starts spreading around your community.  You can check how active the flu is in your area with this map. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people get vaccinated by the end of October so if you haven’t already gotten the shot, there’s no time like the present. But the old phrase “better late than never” still applies here, it’s not too late to get one and they should be widely available through January or so.

Where to get a flu shot:

If you want to get a flu shot this season you don’t have to haul all the way to your general practitioner. If you have your yearly physical coming up fairly soon then sure you could wait and get one then, but there are plenty of places you probably visit fairly frequently that could also give you the vaccine. The CDC has a handy website that can give you a list of places near you offering the vaccine based on your zip code. Most of the results you get will likely be pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, but you’ll also see health centers and medical groups that offer the vaccine to non patients. If you get your vaccine at a Target CVS you could also earn a $5 coupon.

Who shouldn’t get the flu shot:

The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of six months gets vaccinated against the flu each year but there are some exceptions of course. The vaccine does contain  a small amount of egg protein, according to the CDC. While the chances of someone with an allergy experiencing a severe anaphylaxis reaction is just 1.31 of every million, the CDC recommends that people who suffer a reaction other than hives when exposed to eggs get their vaccine in the presence of a healthcare professional with expertise in allergic reactions, if they decide to get the vaccine. Additionally, people who are sick and have a fever should wait until they’re well to get the shot. But people who have a respiratory illness with no fever are good to go if they want to get their vaccine.

What are the vaccine’s side effects?

There are a number of slight side effects some people might experience after getting a flu shot. They mostly include flu-like symptoms and can appear within a few minutes to a few hours after vaccination. They include aches, a slight fever, nausea and possible fainting in adolescents in addition to possible soreness or redness at the injection shot. More severe side effects like difficulty breathing, hoarseness, hives, weakness, a high fever and others are more serious and the CDC recommends anyone with these symptoms seek medical attention.

How effective is the vaccine at preventing the flu?

The effectiveness of the vaccine varies every year and it’s difficult to know how effective a vaccine will be before the season starts. But the CDC estimates that the vaccine reduces the risk of getting the flu by 40 to 60 percent for most of the population. The flu vaccine isn’t an exact match for the viruses going around each year, so the more similar it is, or the better the match, the more effective it is.