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decision pointShould I get a flu shot?

Influenza (flu) is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs caused by a virus. Most people get better without problems, but the flu can be deadly. It can lead to serious problems (complications) such as pneumonia, or it can make an existing disease worse. Every year thousands of people end up in the hospital with flu complications. Getting a flu shot each fall can help you avoid these serious risks.

Consider the following when making your decision:

  • A flu shot may not always keep you from getting the flu, but it can make the symptoms milder and reduce the risk of complications.
  • Anyone older than 6 months can get a flu shot, but it is most important if you are at high risk for complications. Those at high risk include young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with chronic diseases or weak immune systems.
  • If you are a caregiver for someone who is at high risk, it is a good idea to get the shot. This reduces the chance that you could spread the flu to the person you care for.
  • A few people should not get a flu shot without talking to their doctor first. These include people with an allergy to eggs, those who had a severe reaction to the vaccine in the past, some people who are ill, and children younger than 6 months.
  • Flu viruses change quickly, so you need to get a flu shot every fall.
  • You can't get the flu from a flu shot.

What is the flu shot?

The flu shotform.gif(What is a PDF document?) is a vaccine that contains a killed form of three influenza viruses. The vaccine causes your immune system to make antibodies. 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 that protect you. So the best time to get the shot is in October or November, before the flu season starts. But it can still help if you get the shot in December or later, since flu season often doesn't peak until February or even later. And flu is a risk year-round in the tropics. If you are planning travel to a tropical area, you need only 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 fall.

A flu shot doesn't cost much (about $15 to $25), and most insurance companies will pay for it.

Note: Another form of flu vaccine is available as a spray that you breathe in through your nose. This vaccine, called FluMist, contains live but weak viruses. Healthy people ages 2 through 49 years can usually get the nasal spray form of the vaccine (FluMist). Pregnant women can get the flu shot but not FluMist. To find out more about this vaccine, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nasal spray flu vaccineform.gif(What is a PDF document?) statement.

Who should get the flu shot?

You should get a yearly flu shot if you want to reduce your chance of getting the flu. Anyone older than 6 months can get a flu shot.

It's important to get a flu shot if you are at high risk for complications. This includes:

  • People who are age 50 or older. People age 65 or older are at highest risk.
  • People who have long-term (chronic) diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney failure, and lung disease, including asthma.
  • People who live in nursing homes or long-term care centers.
  • People who have weak immune systems.
  • Children 6 months through 4 years of age. (The flu shot is recommended for all children from 6 months to 18 years of age.)

People who could spread the flu to people at high risk should also get the shot. This includes:

  • Anyone who lives with or cares for a child who is 6 months or younger. (Children 6 months or younger can't get the shot.)
  • Anyone in close contact with a person who is at high risk of complications. This includes family, friends, and caregivers.
  • Health care workers.

Who should not get the flu shot?

Some people should not get the flu shot without talking to their doctor first. This includes:

  • People who are allergic to eggs.
  • People who had a bad reaction to the flu shot in the past.
  • People who had a rare nerve disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome after a previous shot.
  • Children who are younger than 6 months of age.
  • People who are already sick. If you are ill and have a fever, wait until you are better to get the shot.

People who can't get the flu shot but are at risk from the flu may be able to take an antiviral medicine instead. For more information, see:

Should I take antiviral medicine for the flu?

What are the benefits of the flu shot?

  • It may keep you from getting the flu. This can save you time (fewer sick days) and money (fewer doctor visits, medicines, and hospital costs).
  • If you do get the flu, it can make the symptoms milder and reduce the risk of serious complications.
  • It can help limit the spread of the flu to others.

What are the risks of the flu shot?

It 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.

The risk of a serious problem from the flu shot (such as a severe allergic reaction) is very small.

The viruses in a flu shot are killed, so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot.

If you need more information, see the topic Influenza.

Your choices are:

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

The decision whether to get a flu shot takes into account your personal feelings and the medical facts.

Deciding about getting a flu shot

Reasons to get a flu shot

Reasons not to get a flu shot

  • You are older than 50.
  • You have a chronic disease or a weak immune system.
  • You live in a nursing home or long-term care center.
  • You are in close contact with someone who is at high risk for complications of the flu.
  • You want to reduce the chance that you will get the flu.

Are there other reasons you might want to get a flu shot?

  • You are allergic to eggs.
  • You had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past.
  • You had Guillain-Barré syndrome after a previous flu shot.
  • You are not in close contact with anyone at high risk of complications from the flu.
  • You are not worried about getting the flu.

Are there other reasons you might not want to get a flu shot?

These personal stories may help you make your decision.

Use this worksheet to help you make your decision. After completing it, you should have a better idea of how you feel about getting a flu shot. Discuss the worksheet with your doctor.

Circle the answer that best applies to you.

I can't afford to get sick. Yes No Unsure
I am allergic to eggs. Yes No NA*
I could have serious complications if I get the flu. Yes No Unsure
I had a bad reaction the last time I got a flu shot. Yes No NA
I have a baby who is too young to get the flu shot. Yes No NA
I'm young and healthy, so I'm not at risk for complications. Yes No Unsure
I work in a nursing home, hospital, or nursery. Yes No NA
I don't like shots. Yes No NA

*NA = Not applicable

Use the following space to list any other important concerns you have about this decision.

 

 

 

 

 

What is your overall impression?

Your answers in the above worksheet are meant to give you a general idea of where you stand on this decision. You may have one overriding reason to get or not get a flu shot.

Check the box below that represents your overall impression about your decision.

Leaning toward getting a flu shot

 

Leaning toward NOT getting a flu shot

         
  • Influenza
  • Immunizations

Organization

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA  30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
E-mail: cdcinfo@cdc.gov
Web Address: www.cdc.gov
 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC works with state and local health officials and the public to achieve better health for all people. The CDC creates the expertise, information, and tools that people and communities need to protect their health-by promoting health, preventing disease, injury, and disability, and being prepared for new health threats.


Author Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Last Updated July 31, 2008

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 31, 2008
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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