What Are the Pros and Cons of the Flu Shot? (2023)

Every winter, the influenza virus causes epidemics of flu in communities throughout the country. This year may be especially burdensome due to the COVID-19 pandemic happening at the same time.

Flu is highly contagious. It causes hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths each year.

The influenza vaccine is available every year to help protect people from coming down with flu. But is it safe? And how important is it now that COVID-19 is a factor?

Read on to learn about the benefits and risks of the flu shot.

The flu vaccine is very safe, although there are some groups of people that shouldn’t get it. They include:

  • children less than 6 months of age
  • people who have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients
  • those with egg or mercury allergies
  • those with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)

Learn more

  • What ingredients are in the flu shot?
  • Flu shot: Learn the side effects

Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?

A common worry is that the flu vaccine can give you the flu. This isn’t possible.

The flu vaccine is made from an inactivated form of the influenza virus or virus components that can’t cause infection. Some individuals do experience side effects that will typically go away in a day or so. These include:

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  • low-grade fever
  • swollen, red, tender area around the injection site
  • chills or headache

1. Flu prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), receiving the influenza vaccine is the most effective way to prevent yourself from becoming sick with the flu.

2. Feeling less sick

It’s still possible to get the flu after vaccination. If you do get sick with the flu, your symptoms may be milder if you got the vaccination.

3. Lower risk of hospitalizations or complications for certain people

Influenza vaccination has been shown to lead to a lower risk of influenza-related complications or hospitalizations in some groups. They include:

4. Protection within the community

When you protect yourself from the flu through vaccination, you’re also protecting those who can’t get vaccinated from catching the flu. This includes those who are too young to get vaccinated. This is called herd immunity and is very important.

1. Still getting the flu

Sometimes you can get the flu shot and still come down with the flu. It takes around 2 weeks after receiving the vaccination for your body to develop immunity. During this time, you can still get catch the flu.

Another reason why you can still catch the flu is if there wasn’t a good “vaccine match.” Researchers need to decide which strains to include in the vaccine many months before flu season actually starts.

When there’s not a good match between the selected strains and the strains that actually end up circulating during flu season, the vaccine isn’t as effective.

2. Severe allergic reaction

Some people may have a negative reaction to the flu shot. If you have a negative reaction to the vaccine, symptoms usually occur within minutes to hours after receiving the vaccine. Symptoms may include:

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  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • rapid heartbeat
  • rash or hives
  • swelling around the eyes and mouth
  • feeling weak or dizzy

If you experience these symptoms after getting the flu vaccine, see your doctor. If the reaction is severe, go to the emergency room.

3. Guillain-Barré syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare condition where your immune system begins to attack your peripheral nerves. It’s very rare, but influenza virus vaccination can trigger the condition.

If you’ve already had Guillain-Barré syndrome, speak to your doctor before getting vaccinated.

The influenza vaccine can be delivered as either an injection or as a nasal spray.

The flu shot can come in a variety of forms that protect against three or four influenza strains. Although no type of flu shot is recommended over others, you should speak to your doctor about which one is best for you.

The nasal spray contains a small dose of a live, but weakened form of the influenza virus.

The nasal spray wasn’t recommended for the 2017 to 2018 influenza season due to concern for low levels of effectiveness. But either is recommended for the 2020 to 2021 season. This is because the formulation for the spray is now more effective.

The flu vaccine is needed every year for two reasons.

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The first is that your body’s immune response to influenza decreases over time. Receiving the vaccine every year helps you have continued protection.

The second reason is that the influenza virus is constantly changing. This means that the viruses that were prevalent in the previous flu season may not be in the upcoming season.

The flu vaccine is updated every year to include protection against the influenza viruses most likely to circulate in the upcoming flu season. A seasonal flu shot is the most effective protection.

The CDC recommends that children over 6 months of age receive the flu vaccine. Children under 6 months old are too young to receive the vaccine.

Flu vaccine side effects in babies are similar to those in adults. They may include:

  • low-grade fever
  • muscle aches
  • soreness at the injection site

Some children between ages 6 months and 8 years may need two doses. Ask your child’s doctor how many doses your child needs.

Pregnant women should get the flu vaccine every year. Changes in your immune system during pregnancy lead to an increased risk of severe illness or hospitalization due to influenza.

Both the CDC and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend pregnant women get the seasonal flu shot in any trimester of pregnancy.

(Video) Pros and Cons of Flu Vaccination

Additionally, receiving the flu vaccine can help protect your baby. In the months after birth, if you breastfeed, you can pass anti-influenza antibodies to your baby through breast milk.

While the flu vaccine has had a strong safety record in pregnant women, a 2017 study did raise some safety concerns. Researchers found an association between miscarriage and flu vaccination in the preceding 28 days.

It’s important to note that this study only included a small number of women. Additionally, the association was only statistically significant in women who had received a vaccine containing the pandemic H1N1 strain in the previous season.

While additional studies need to be completed to investigate this concern, both the CDC and the ACOG still strongly recommend that all pregnant women receive the flu vaccine.

Manufacturers typically begin shipping the flu vaccine in August. People are often encouraged to receive the vaccine as soon as it’s available.

However, a 2017 study found that protection begins to wane over time following vaccination. Since you’ll want to be protected throughout the entire flu season, you may not want to get your vaccine too early.

Most doctors recommend that everyone gets their flu vaccine by the end of October or before the virus begins to circulate in your community.

If you don’t receive your vaccination by the end of October, it isn’t too late. Getting vaccinated later can still provide protection against the influenza virus.

Takeaway

(Video) Why 60% of Americans plan to delay or skip the flu shot this year

Every fall and winter, millions of people get the flu. Receiving the flu vaccine is a very effective way to prevent yourself and your family from developing the flu.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is a factor since a person can acquire it and other respiratory infections like the flu at the same time. Getting the flu shot will help to decrease the dangers for everyone.

There are many benefits to influenza vaccination, as well as some associated risks. If you have questions or concerns about influenza vaccination, be sure to speak to your doctor about them.

FAQs

Are there any downsides to getting the flu shot? ›

However, possible side effects for the flu shot are typically mild, such as soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, fever, aches or other minor symptoms. If these minor side effects occur, it is typically soon after the shot is administered, and symptoms last for up to 2 days.

What are the side effects of the flu shot 2022? ›

Common side effects from the flu shot include:
  • Soreness, redness, and/or swelling from the shot.
  • Headache.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea.
  • Muscle aches.

What are the benefits of the flu shot? ›

What are the benefits of flu vaccination?
  • Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick with flu. ...
  • Flu vaccination has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick. ...
  • Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization.

What does the flu shot do to your immune system? ›

Because flu viruses change so quickly, last year's vaccine may not protect you from this year's viruses. New flu vaccines are released every year to keep up with rapidly changing flu viruses. When you get vaccinated, your immune system makes antibodies to protect you from the viruses included in the vaccine.

Can flu shot cause neurological problems? ›

Several other neurological complications have been reported following receipt of influenza vaccines, including transverse myelitis, hypoglossal nerve paralysis, hemiparesis, meningoencephalitic syndrome, and ADEM (acute disseminated encephalomyelitis).

Does flu shot weaken immune? ›

They found that getting an annual flu vaccination did not weaken the immune system. As a group, the people who got the flu shot annually appeared to have a better immune response to influenza than those vaccinated only once.

How accurate is the flu vaccine 2022? ›

The flu vaccine is typically about 40% to 60% effective, and it's hard to predict if the current flu vaccines will be a good match for the strains going around.

How long does flu antibodies last? ›

The researchers found spikes of BMPCs specific for influenza 4 weeks after immunization. But after 1 year, the new cells were virtually gone.

What are signs of a strong immune system? ›

What are the signs of a strong immune system?
  • You are following a healthy diet.
  • You have good gut health.
  • You like to drink water.
  • You recover well from colds and flu.
  • You sleep soundly.
  • You're up for a laugh!
Apr 7, 2021

Can you still get flu after vaccination? ›

It is possible to get the flu even if you receive a dose of flu vaccine. Flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness between 40% and 60%. Sometimes people are already exposed to flu virus before getting a flu shot. It may take a couple of weeks for a dose of flu vaccine to protect against the virus.

Does getting the flu make your immune system stronger? ›

But while your immune system won't have any specific “memory” of the virus, it will mount an immune response if you are infected — because that's how your immune system works. Coming into contact with germs spurs an immune response, but it doesn't do anything to make your immune system stronger.

Does flu vaccine shorten duration? ›

It's to protect you from the severity of the infection. If you get the flu without a shot, you'll have symptoms for 5 to 14 days. If you get the flu shot and still contract the flu, the flu shot will shorten the duration of that infection so you're only ill a fraction of the time.

Can you have the flu and Covid at the same time? ›

Getting treated early for COVID-19 and flu can reduce your risk of getting very sick. Testing can also reveal if someone has both flu and COVID-19 at the same time, although this is uncommon. People with flu and COVID-19 at the same time can have more severe disease than people with either flu or COVID-19 alone.

Which influenza vaccine is best? ›

For the 2022-2023 flu season, there are three flu vaccines that are preferentially recommended for people 65 years and older. These are Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine, Flublok Quadrivalent recombinant flu vaccine and Fluad Quadrivalent adjuvanted flu vaccine.

What strains are in the 2022 2023 flu vaccine? ›

Formulation of Egg-Based Flu Vaccines

an A/Victoria/2570/2019 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus. an A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus. a B/Austria/1359417/2021-like virus (B/Victoria lineage) a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage)v.

What is the purpose of getting a flu shot every year? ›

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones against influenza (flu) is to get a flu vaccine every flu season. Flu is a contagious respiratory disease that can lead to serious illness, hospitalization, or even death. CDC recommends everyone six months and older get an annual flu vaccine.

Is flu good for health? ›

Colds and flu - a bad or good sign? Having 1 to 2 colds or flu per year is actually a sign of a healthy immune system. You can think of the infections as a yearly tune-up. The intensity and duration of symptoms during a given sickness provide important clues of immune system health status.

Can you get same flu twice? ›

It is possible to get the flu twice during the same flu season. Since there are two types of flu strains – influenza A and influenza B – if you get influenza A, you can also get influenza B. But there is some good news.

Can you get a neurological disorder from a vaccine? ›

Severe neurological manifestations, such as acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), and stroke, have been reported in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) related to the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccines [14,15] (Table 1).

How long after flu shot does Guillain Barre Syndrome? ›

According to the Vaccine Injury Table, symptoms of GBS after a flu shot should manifest 3-42 days following vaccination to bring an on-Table claim, although it is still possible to file a successful claim if symptoms do not strictly fall within this time period.

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