The flu shot is a vaccine that contains a killed form of several types of flu viruses. The vaccine causes your immune system to make antibodies. Then, if you are exposed to the flu later, the antibodies can attack and destroy the virus.
It takes about 2 weeks for your body to make the antibodies. So it's best to get the flu shot as soon as it's available. But the shot can still help if you get it during the flu season. The flu is a risk all year in the tropics. If you plan to travel to a tropical area, you still only need one flu shot in a year.
Flu viruses change quickly, so each year scientists make a new vaccine. To have the best chance of being protected, you need to get a flu shot every year. The viruses in a flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot.
Adults ages 65 and older can get a high-dose flu shot.1 Studies are being done to see if the high-dose shot protects older adults better than the standard-dose shot.
Most, but not all, types of flu vaccine contain a small amount of egg.
A flu shot costs about $20 to $30. Most insurance companies will pay for it.
Another form of the flu vaccine is available as a spray that you breathe in through your nose. This vaccine (such as FluMist) contains live but weak viruses.
Healthy people ages 2 through 49 years can usually get the nasal spray.
Pregnant women can get the flu shot but not the nasal spray.
The CDC recommends that everyone age 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine each year.
A flu vaccine is especially important for people who are at high risk for getting other health problems from the flu. This includes:
The flu vaccine is also important for people who could spread the flu to others who are at high risk. This includes:
The person who gives the vaccine may tell you not to get it if you:
The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended for people younger than 2 or older than 49.
People who can't get a flu vaccine but are at risk from the flu may be able to take an antiviral medicine instead.
The flu vaccine may keep you from getting seasonal and H1N1 flu. This can save you time (fewer days missed from work or school) and money (fewer doctor visits, medicines, and hospital costs). The flu vaccine can also help prevent the spread of the flu to others. And the flu vaccine can help protect the babies of women who got the vaccine while they were pregnant.2, 3
If you do get the flu, your symptoms may be milder and you may be less likely to have other health problems from the flu.
The flu shot may cause mild problems, such as soreness, redness, and swelling on the arm where you got the shot. You might also have a fever and muscle aches for a day or two after you get the shot. A type of flu shot (Fluzone Intradermal) is available that uses a much smaller needle than a regular flu shot. The vaccine is injected into the skin instead of into a muscle. This usually causes less discomfort at the time of the shot. People 18 to 64 years old can get this shot, but it may not be available everywhere.
The nasal spray flu vaccine can cause mild side effects such as a runny nose, headache, fever, sore throat, cough, or muscle aches.
Neither the flu shot or nasal spray can cause the flu. The flu shot contains killed viruses that can't cause an infection. And the flu nasal spray vaccine, which contains live, weakened viruses, can cause symptoms similar to a cold, but can't cause the flu.
The risk of a serious problem from the flu vaccine (such as a bad allergic reaction) is very small.
|Get the flu vaccine||Don't get the flu vaccine|
|What is usually involved?|
|What are the benefits?|
|What are the risks and side effects?|
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
"I am in very good health for my age. Still, I get a flu shot every year. Why take chances? I've seen too many friends end up in the hospital because they didn't take the flu seriously. I urge my kids to get it too, because you never know how nasty this year's flu strain might be."
— Bert, age 68
"I am terribly allergic to eggs, and my doctor says not to get a flu vaccine. Instead, I take antiviral medicine to help protect me from the flu. I have a family to support, including my dad who has kidney disease. So the last thing I need is to get the flu and bring it into the house."
— Starla, age 42
"My grandmother is in a nursing home, and I visit her every couple of weeks. I wouldn't want to risk giving her the flu, so I'm going to get the flu vaccine. But I don't like needles, so I plan to get the nasal spray."
— Betsy, age 17
"At my age, I don't see any reason to get a flu shot. I'm very strong, and I hardly ever get sick. I'm not worried about getting the flu."
— Quincy, age 25
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to get a flu vaccine
Reasons not to get a flu vaccine
I'll do whatever I can to avoid getting the flu.
I'm not worried about getting the flu.
I can't afford to get sick and miss work or school.
I'm not worried about getting sick and missing work or school.
I'm a big believer in vaccines.
I don't trust vaccines.
I'm worried about getting other serious health problems from the flu.
I'm more worried about side effects from the vaccine.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
Getting a flu vaccine
NOT getting a flu vaccine
1. Can you get the flu from a flu vaccine?
2. Is a flu vaccine safe for everyone?
3. Should you get a flu vaccine if you have a long-term (chronic) disease, such as diabetes or heart disease, or a weak immune system?
1. Do you understand the options available to you?
2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.
3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Christine Hahn, MD - Epidemiology|
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010). Licensure of a high-dose inactivated influenza vaccine for persons aged ≥65 years (Fluzone high-dose) and guidance for use—United States, 2010. MMWR, 59(16): 485–486. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5916a2.htm?s_cid=mm5916a2_e.