The flu’s no fun. Chills, fever, coughing and body aches can last for more than a week. If things go south you could even wind up with a nasty complication such as pneumonia. Older people and those with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes or lung disease, are especially vulnerable. Getting a flu vaccine is your best protection.

The vaccine doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu, but it helps significantly — this year’s shot reduces your risk by 60 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can also reduce the odds for complications that land you or your child in the hospital by about 70 percent.

Here’s how to get the best protection from your flu vaccine this year.

1. Time it right. Flu season begins as early as October and lasts until May of the following year, with peak activity most years in February. It’s best to get the vaccine as soon as it’s available in the fall. It takes two weeks for your body to build up an army of protective antibodies. But late is better than never, says the CDC. Getting a flu vaccine in December, January or even February still offers protection.

2. Know when to reschedule. If you have a fever, wait until your temperature is back to normal before getting a flu shot. Go ahead and get your flu shot if you have a cold or another mild illness without fever.

3. Pick the best vaccine for you and your kids. Depending on your age and health, you may have more than one type of flu vaccine to choose from.

  • The nasal spray. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is approved for ages 2 to 49. The CDC now recommends it over the flu shot for most kids ages 2 to 8. Older children — and adults under 50 who hate needles — can opt for the spray, too. Seriously congested? Hold off until you’re breathing freely. A stuffy nose makes it harder for your body to absorb the vaccine.
  • The “tiny needle” shot. The intradermal shot, approved for people ages 18 to 64, uses a needle that’s 90 percent smaller than the regular flu shot needle. The shot gets injected into the skin, unlike the more painful muscle injection.
  • The high-dose shot. Older adults tend to have weaker immune systems that don’t respond as well to flu vaccines. The high-dose vaccine is intended for adults 65 and over. According to some research, it’s 24 percent more effective than the standard vaccine for preventing flu in older adults.

4. Get some exercise. Regular exercise, which boosts the immune system, is one of the best ways to make your flu vaccine more effective, report researchers from the University of Indiana, Urbana-Champaign.

5. De-stress. Practicing your favorite stress-reduction technique may help, too. At least 13 studies show that people living with chronic stress produce fewer protective antibodies after getting a flu shot.

6. Turn in on time. Research suggests that sleep deprivation may reduce your immune system’s response to the flu vaccine.

Are you eligible?

If you’re pregnant you can still get a flu shot. It’s safe for you and your baby. Getting one can cut your baby’s risk for catching the flu after birth. That’s important because babies younger than 6 months shouldn’t get a flu vaccine.

You may even be able to get vaccinated if you have an egg allergy. Talk with your doctor. Most, but not all, flu vaccines are manufactured using eggs, and so may have tiny amounts of egg protein in them. But two vaccines (the RIV3 Recombinant Influenza Vaccine and the IIV Inactivated Influenza Vaccine) are good alternatives for many egg-allergic people.

If you think you can’t afford a flu shot, check your plan again. Most insurance, including Medicare, covers this vaccine. There’s also coverage under the federal Vaccines for Children program for kids whose parents don’t have insurance or have a plan that doesn’t pay for flu vaccines.

Sari Harrar is an award-winning health, medicine and science journalist whose work appears in Dr. Oz The Good Life magazine, Good Housekeeping, O--Oprah Magazine, Organic Gardening and other publications.