Flu Vaccines: Should I Get a Flu Vaccine?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Flu Vaccines: Should I Get a Flu Vaccine?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Get a flu vaccine
  • Don't get a flu vaccine.

Key points to remember

  • Most people get better from the flu without problems, but the flu can be deadly. It can lead to serious health problems such as pneumonia, or it can make an existing disease worse. Every year, thousands of people end up in the hospital with other health problems from the flu.
  • A flu vaccine may not always keep you from getting the seasonal or H1N1 flu, but it can make the symptoms milder and lower the risk of other health problems from the flu.
  • A few people may not be able to get a flu vaccine. If you have a severe allergy to any part of the vaccine, have had a serious reaction to the vaccine in the past, had Guillain-Barré syndrome, or are ill, be sure to tell the person who gives the vaccine.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone age 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine. But it's most important to get one if you're at high risk for other health problems from the flu. Those at high risk include young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people who have chronic diseases or weak immune systems.
  • If you take care of someone who is at high risk, it's a good idea to get a flu vaccine. This can lower the chance that you could spread the flu to the person you care for.
  • Flu viruses change quickly, so you need to get a flu vaccine every year.
  • You can't get the flu from a flu vaccine.
FAQs

What is the flu shot?

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.

What about the nasal spray?

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.

Who should get a flu vaccine?

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:

  • People who are age 50 or older. People age 65 or older are the most likely to have problems from the flu.
  • People who have long-term (chronic) diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and lung disease, including asthma.
  • People who live in nursing homes or long-term care centers.
  • People who have a weak immune system.
  • Women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season.
  • Young children.

The flu vaccine is also important for people who could spread the flu to others who are at high risk. This includes:

  • Anyone who lives with or cares for a child who is younger than 5.
  • Anyone in close contact with a person who is at high risk for other health problems from the flu. This includes family, friends, and caregivers.
  • Health care workers.

Who should not get a flu vaccine?

The person who gives the vaccine may tell you not to get it if you:

  • Have a severe allergy to eggs or any part of the vaccine.
  • Have had a serious reaction to the flu vaccine in the past.
  • Have had Guillain-Barré syndrome.
  • Are sick. If you are ill and have a fever, wait until you're better before you get a flu vaccine.

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.

What are the benefits of the flu vaccine?

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.

What are the risks of the flu vaccine?

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.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Get the flu vaccine Get the flu vaccine
  • You get a shot in your arm or get a spray into your nose.
  • You get the shot or the nasal spray at your doctor's office, workplace, health clinic, drugstore or grocery store, or any other place that offers it.
  • It may keep you from getting the seasonal and H1N1 flu.
  • If you do get the flu, your symptoms may be milder and you may be less likely to get other health problems from the flu.
  • You're less likely to spread the flu to others.
  • If you are pregnant, it can help prevent your newborn baby from getting the flu.
  • You might have:
    • Soreness, redness, and swelling at the injection site if you got the shot.
    • Runny nose, sore throat, or a cough if you got the nasal spray.
    • A fever and muscle aches for a day or two.
    • An allergic reaction, but this is rare.
Don't get the flu vaccine Don't get the flu vaccine
  • You can take steps to prevent the flu: wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your face.
  • You can avoid people who are sick.
  • You avoid the side effects of the flu shot or the nasal spray.
  • You don't have to pay for a flu vaccine or take the time to get one.
  • You are more likely to get the flu.
  • If you do get the flu, you may:
    • Miss several days of work or school.
    • Spend time and money on doctor visits and on over-the-counter medicines.
    • Get other health problems from the flu that may need to be treated in a hospital.
  • If you are pregnant, your baby may be more likely to get the flu before he or she can get the vaccine.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about getting a flu vaccine

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

What matters most to you?

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.

More important
Equally important
More important

I can't afford to get sick and miss work or school.

I'm not worried about getting sick and missing work or school.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm a big believer in vaccines.

I don't trust vaccines.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm worried about getting other serious health problems from the flu.

I'm more worried about side effects from the vaccine.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

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

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

Can you get the flu from a flu vaccine?

  • YesSorry, that's not right. The viruses in the flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot. And the weakened viruses in the flu nasal spray vaccine can cause symptoms similar to a cold, but they can't cause the flu.
  • NoThat's right. The viruses in the flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot. And the weakened viruses in the flu nasal spray vaccine can cause symptoms similar to a cold, but they can't cause the flu.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." The viruses in the flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot. And the weakened viruses in the flu nasal spray vaccine can cause symptoms similar to a cold, but they can't cause the flu.
2.

Is a flu vaccine safe for everyone?

  • YesSorry, that's not right. Some people shouldn't get a flu vaccine without talking to their doctor first. These include people who have had a bad reaction to the flu vaccine in the past.
  • NoThat's right. Some people shouldn't get a flu vaccine without talking to their doctor first. These include people who have had a bad reaction to the flu vaccine in the past.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." Some people, such as those who have had a bad reaction to the vaccine in the past, should check with their doctors first.
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?

  • YesThat's right. It's important that people with chronic diseases or a weak immune system get a flu vaccine, because they are at high risk for other health problems from the flu.
  • NoSorry, that's not right. It's important that people with chronic diseases or a weak immune system get a flu vaccine, because they are at high risk for other health problems from the flu.
  • I'm not sureIt may help to go back and read "Get the Facts." It's important that people with chronic diseases or a weak immune system get a flu vaccine, because they are at high risk for other health problems from the flu.

Decide what's next

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?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision 

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts 

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act 

Patient choices

Credits and References

Credits
Credits Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Christine Hahn, MD - Epidemiology

References
Citations
  1. 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.
  2. Zaman K, et al. (2008). Effectiveness of maternal influenza immunization in mothers and infants. New England Journal of Medicine, 359(15): 1555–1564.
  3. Eick AA, et al. (2011). Maternal influenza vaccination and effect on influenza virus infection in young infants. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 165(2): 104–111.
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Flu Vaccines: Should I Get a Flu Vaccine?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Get a flu vaccine
  • Don't get a flu vaccine.

Key points to remember

  • Most people get better from the flu without problems, but the flu can be deadly. It can lead to serious health problems such as pneumonia, or it can make an existing disease worse. Every year, thousands of people end up in the hospital with other health problems from the flu.
  • A flu vaccine may not always keep you from getting the seasonal or H1N1 flu, but it can make the symptoms milder and lower the risk of other health problems from the flu.
  • A few people may not be able to get a flu vaccine. If you have a severe allergy to any part of the vaccine, have had a serious reaction to the vaccine in the past, had Guillain-Barré syndrome, or are ill, be sure to tell the person who gives the vaccine.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone age 6 months or older should get a flu vaccine. But it's most important to get one if you're at high risk for other health problems from the flu. Those at high risk include young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people who have chronic diseases or weak immune systems.
  • If you take care of someone who is at high risk, it's a good idea to get a flu vaccine. This can lower the chance that you could spread the flu to the person you care for.
  • Flu viruses change quickly, so you need to get a flu vaccine every year.
  • You can't get the flu from a flu vaccine.
FAQs

What is the flu shot?

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.

What about the nasal spray?

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.

Who should get a flu vaccine?

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:

  • People who are age 50 or older. People age 65 or older are the most likely to have problems from the flu.
  • People who have long-term (chronic) diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and lung disease, including asthma.
  • People who live in nursing homes or long-term care centers.
  • People who have a weak immune system.
  • Women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season.
  • Young children.

The flu vaccine is also important for people who could spread the flu to others who are at high risk. This includes:

  • Anyone who lives with or cares for a child who is younger than 5.
  • Anyone in close contact with a person who is at high risk for other health problems from the flu. This includes family, friends, and caregivers.
  • Health care workers.

Who should not get a flu vaccine?

The person who gives the vaccine may tell you not to get it if you:

  • Have a severe allergy to eggs or any part of the vaccine.
  • Have had a serious reaction to the flu vaccine in the past.
  • Have had Guillain-Barré syndrome.
  • Are sick. If you are ill and have a fever, wait until you're better before you get a flu vaccine.

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.

What are the benefits of the flu vaccine?

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.

What are the risks of the flu vaccine?

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.

2. Compare your options

  Get the flu vaccine Don't get the flu vaccine
What is usually involved?
  • You get a shot in your arm or get a spray into your nose.
  • You get the shot or the nasal spray at your doctor's office, workplace, health clinic, drugstore or grocery store, or any other place that offers it.
  • You can take steps to prevent the flu: wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your face.
  • You can avoid people who are sick.
What are the benefits?
  • It may keep you from getting the seasonal and H1N1 flu.
  • If you do get the flu, your symptoms may be milder and you may be less likely to get other health problems from the flu.
  • You're less likely to spread the flu to others.
  • If you are pregnant, it can help prevent your newborn baby from getting the flu.
  • You avoid the side effects of the flu shot or the nasal spray.
  • You don't have to pay for a flu vaccine or take the time to get one.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • You might have:
    • Soreness, redness, and swelling at the injection site if you got the shot.
    • Runny nose, sore throat, or a cough if you got the nasal spray.
    • A fever and muscle aches for a day or two.
    • An allergic reaction, but this is rare.
  • You are more likely to get the flu.
  • If you do get the flu, you may:
    • Miss several days of work or school.
    • Spend time and money on doctor visits and on over-the-counter medicines.
    • Get other health problems from the flu that may need to be treated in a hospital.
  • If you are pregnant, your baby may be more likely to get the flu before he or she can get the vaccine.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about getting a flu vaccine

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

3. What matters most to you?

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.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I can't afford to get sick and miss work or school.

I'm not worried about getting sick and missing work or school.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I'm a big believer in vaccines.

I don't trust vaccines.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I'm worried about getting other serious health problems from the flu.

I'm more worried about side effects from the vaccine.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

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

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. Can you get the flu from a flu vaccine?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. The viruses in the flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot. And the weakened viruses in the flu nasal spray vaccine can cause symptoms similar to a cold, but they can't cause the flu.

2. Is a flu vaccine safe for everyone?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. Some people shouldn't get a flu vaccine without talking to their doctor first. These include people who have had a bad reaction to the flu vaccine in the past.

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?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. It's important that people with chronic diseases or a weak immune system get a flu vaccine, because they are at high risk for other health problems from the flu.

Decide what's next

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?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Christine Hahn, MD - Epidemiology

References
Citations
  1. 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.
  2. Zaman K, et al. (2008). Effectiveness of maternal influenza immunization in mothers and infants. New England Journal of Medicine, 359(15): 1555–1564.
  3. Eick AA, et al. (2011). Maternal influenza vaccination and effect on influenza virus infection in young infants. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 165(2): 104–111.

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