Is the Flu Shot for You?
The flu shot greatly reduces the risk of getting or spreading seasonal flu.
Each year, millions of Americans get the flu (influenza). Most people have muscle aches, chills and a fever for a week or so, but some get much sicker and end up in the hospital. On average, more than 30,000 people die from the flu each year. The risk of serious illness and death is greatest for children younger than 2 years, older adults and people with chronic health conditions.
Luckily, the flu shot can prevent most cases of flu. Find out if the flu shot is right for you.
Who should get a flu shot?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu shot for everyone 6 months of age and older.
The flu shot is especially important for health care workers and persons at high risk for complications, and their contacts. This includes close contacts of children under the age of 6 months.
Who should not get the flu shot?
You should not get the flu shot if you have ever had a serious allergic reaction to eggs or a previous dose of flu vaccine.
Talk to your doctor if you have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a severe paralytic illness. Your doctor can help you decide if the shot is a good idea for you.
If you are moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled, wait until you recover before getting a flu shot.
When should I get vaccinated?
The ideal time to get the flu shot is in the fall as soon as the vaccine becomes available, before flu season starts. But getting it in December or later may still help. In the U.S., flu season usually runs from November to May.
Some children age 6 months through 8 years need two doses of the flu shot about four weeks apart for it to work, including children who:
•Never had a seasonal flu shot before
•Had a seasonal flu shot for the first time last year and only had one shot of that vaccine
•Did not get the swine flu vaccine last year (during the 2009-2010 flu season) or it's unknown if they received the swine flu shot last year
Other children will need only one flu shot this year.
Protection develops within about two weeks after the shot is given.
The viruses that cause the flu change often, so the vaccine is updated each year. For example, this year's vaccine will protect you from both the swine (H1N1) and seasonal flu viruses. That's why you need a new shot every year.
Can the shot prevent all cases of the flu?
The flu vaccine is highly effective, but no vaccine works 100 percent of the time. If you do get the flu after being vaccinated, you will probably have a milder illness than if you had not gotten the shot.
Remember, the flu shot protects only against the flu. It does not prevent colds and other causes of illness.
What are the risks of the flu shot?
The flu shot may cause mild side effects, such as soreness, redness or swelling at the site of the injection. Serious side effects, such as a severe allergic reaction, are very rare.
Can I get the flu from the shot?
The flu shot is a “killed vaccine” and does not cause the flu.
Is a flu shot the only choice?
In 2003, the FDA approved a nasal spray vaccine called FluMist. The vaccine can be used by healthy people aged 2 through 49 years. It is not safe for pregnant women to use the nasal spray vaccine. It is also not safe for people with certain medical problems or weak immune systems. Talk to your doctor to see if this vaccine is right for you.
A higher-dose vaccine is available as an alternative to the flu shot for seniors age 65 and older. Talk to your doctor to learn more about this option.