The flu shot greatly reduces the risk of getting or spreading seasonal flu.
Each year, millions of Americans get seasonal 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 seasonal 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 seasonal 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 seasonal flu shot for:
- All children age 6 months through 18 years
- All adults age 50 and older
The shot is strongly recommended for people at high risk for complications from seasonal flu. This includes:
- Children age 6 months to 4 years old
- Women who will be pregnant during flu season
- People with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, lung disease, kidney disease, liver disease and anemia
- People who have weakened immune systems because of diseases such as HIV/AIDS or long-term treatment with drugs such as steroids and chemotherapy
- People who have muscle or nerve disorders (such as cerebral palsy) that can lead to breathing or swallowing problems
- Children who are on long-term aspirin therapy
- People who live in nursing homes or chronic care facilities
The flu shot is a good idea for anyone who wants to reduce the risk of getting or spreading the flu, but it’s especially important for:
- Health care workers
- Anyone in close contact with children younger than 5 years old
- Anyone who lives or works with people older than 50 or at high risk for complications from the flu
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 October or November, before flu season starts. But getting it in December or later may still help. In the United States, flu season usually runs from November to May.
Children should be vaccinated in September or as soon as possible after the vaccine becomes available.
- Children age 6 months to 8 years who never had a flu shot before should get two shots about four weeks apart. Children should also get two shots if they had a flu shot for the first time last year and only had one shot at that time.
- Other children will need only one flu shot each year.
Protection develops about two weeks after the shot is given and lasts up to a year.
The viruses that cause the flu change often, so the vaccine is updated each year. 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 fever.
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 shot the only choice?
In 2003, the FDA approved a nasal spray vaccine called FluMist. The vaccine can be used by healthy children age 5 through 17 and healthy adults age 18 to 49. Ask your doctor if FluMist is an option for you.