Flu Vaccine FAQ
What the CDC Wants You to Know About the 2010-2011 Flu Vaccine
Sept. 13, 2010 -- As the 2010-2011 flu season approaches, it's once again time for flu vaccination.
This year, the CDC advises just about everyone to get the vaccine. That raises questions. So does the inclusion of the H1N1 pandemic swine flu vaccine in the seasonal vaccine.
To answer the questions, WebMD spoke with flu expert William Atkinson, MD, MPH, of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
The CDC now recommends the flu vaccine for just about everyone over age 6 months. But does everyone really need a flu vaccination?
Everybody can benefit from the flu vaccine. Up until 2009, it was recommended every year for everyone except for a small group of 18- to 49-year-old, non-pregnant people in good health. We just added that group. Everyone who does not want to get the flu can benefit -- and it certainly can save some people's lives.
I'm a healthy person. It's just the flu, why should I worry about it?
That's a very good question. The problem is that we have seen some severe illnesses and deaths in young, relatively healthy people. Some were adults under age 50 who weren't aware they had risk factors for severe flu illness.
It is true that most flu deaths and severe illnesses occur in the extremes of age, in infants and in the elderly. But it does kill people who are healthy. And some people who think they are healthy have medical risks they are unaware of.
Even someone with no underlying medical condition can get a very nasty flu illness, with missed days of work and a trip to the doctor's office. Why would anyone want that?
In addition, vaccination of healthy people reduces their chance of becoming infected with the flu virus -- and passing the virus to someone at higher risk of complications, such as a baby or an elderly person.
I got a flu shot a few years ago -- and a few days later I came down with the flu. Instead of risking this again, wouldn't I be safer just avoiding sick people?
Probably one of the most common concerns we hear is from people who, right after getting a flu shot, got something that seems to them like flu.
It is possible it could happen. After a dose of flu vaccine, it takes at least a week to become immune. If flu is in your community and you are exposed, it takes two or three days for symptoms to appear. So it is possible if you are exposed to flu to get sick before the vaccine has a chance to work. It gives people the impression the vaccine caused the flu.
And the way people use it, "flu" is not a specific term. People have different ideas of what flu is. Other kinds of viral infections can cause a flu-like illness, but it is not flu. And influenza vaccine will not protect against that.