Most Common Flu Shot Questions, Answered.
Maria A. Di Giovanni, MD, Internal Medicine, Stamford Health Medical Group and Michael F. Parry, MD, Chair of Infectious Diseases
The first question you’re asking yourself is probably, “Do I really need to get a flu shot?” While the choice is yours and yours alone, there are a few facts you may want to consider if you’re apprehensive or on-the-fence about the vaccine.
Q: How serious is the flu? Is it just like a really bad cold?
A: In simple terms, when you have the flu, you feel a lot worse than when you have the common cold. Symptoms can definitely vary by age, but the basics are:
- Fever with chills
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
The flu can strike anyone suddenly and can last several days, with peak season being anywhere from October-May. It can be more dangerous for infants and young children, people aged 65 and over, pregnant women, those with underlying heart and lung disease, or people with a weakened immune system.
Q: How do I know if I have the flu or COVID-19?
A: Both viruses share many symptoms, so the answer isn't always clear. But the ways you can stay safe and healthy are very similar. Read this blog for more ways to protect yourself against COVID-19 and the flu.
Q: What’s the worst possible case scenario for someone who has the flu?
A: Every year, thousands of Americans die from the flu and even more are hospitalized. The flu can lead to pneumonia and blood infections, and can bring about diarrhea and seizures in children. Heart and lung complications may arise from the flu.
Q: But… Can’t the shot actually cause the flu?
A: No! This is a common misconception. There’s no live flu virus in the flu shot. In fact, there are many influenza viruses and they’re constantly changing. That’s why, every year, a new vaccine is created to help protect against the 3-4 strains that are most likely to cause the disease. The vaccine still provides substantial protection even if it doesn’t exactly match the strains.
Q: Last year, I got sick from the shot. Why?
A: You may get sick, but it’s not from the shot. It’s important to understand that the flu vaccine targets specific strains of influenza, and it is inactive. There are many other viruses and bacteria that can make you sick with symptoms like the flu.
Q: Tell me: why should I get this vaccine again? Do I really need it every year?
A: The flu vaccine can:
- Keep you from getting the flu.
- Make you less sick if you do acquire the flu.
- Keep you from spreading the disease to those around you, which your family, friends and colleagues will appreciate!
Circulating influenza viruses change from season to season which is why a new flu vaccine has to be given each
year. Specific viruses are selected for the vaccine by the World Health Organization based on those strains most recently circulating.
For the 2020/2021 season, the vaccine will contain four different influenza A and B viruses.
Q: Is there anyone who shouldn't get the flu vaccine?
A: Almost everyone can get flu vaccine. Here are some considerations and exceptions:
- If you're highly allergic to eggs should receive the egg-free product.
- If you have a history of (1) documented anaphylactic shock after a previous flu vaccine or, (2) Guillain-Barre syndrome (a type of paralysis) within six weeks of receiving a flu vaccine.
- If you're sick with a fever, wait until you are better to get vaccinated.
Q: Where can I find out more about the flu and flu vaccine?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine Preventable Diseases "The Pink Book-13th edition, available at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/chapters.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Seasonal Influenza (flu) Vaccination available at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm
- ACIP updated recommendations available at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/recommendations.html
- Influenza Action Coalition website information on flu vaccine http://www.vaccineinformation.org/influenza
- Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, 2020–2021 Influenza Season https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/rr/rr6908a1.htm?s_cid=rr6908a1_w
- Influenza vaccine information sheets (VIS) for distribution to patients https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/flu.html
- Infectious Diseases Society of America policy statement on mandatory flu vaccination http://www.idsociety.org/HCW_Policy/
Let’s fight the flu and stay healthy!