Do You Really Need a Flu Shot? (Everything You Need to Know about the Vaccine)

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By: , – Hillary Copsey
11/1/2012 10:00 AM   :  116 comments   :  36,302 Views

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Fall is here. Apples are in season. Leaves are falling. Pumpkin just begs to be baked into a pie.
 
But with all of those good things comes at least one not-so-good thing: the flu.
 
Flu season can begin in October and end as late as May, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza is caused by viruses and because these can change, each flu season is a different. Individuals also are affected differently by the flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea or respiratory distress. Typically the worst cases are in people 65 or older. CDC estimates of flu-related deaths between 1976 and 2007 range from 3,000 to 49,000, and in a normal year, about 90 percent of deaths are in people older than 65.
 
Several years ago, swine flu – the H1N1 virus – hit the U.S. and caused a great deal of concern because it seemed to strike pregnant women and younger adults much harder than the typical flu virus. Odd flu seasons like that are when you start seeing headlines about the flu killing people and urging people to get vaccinated against the virus.
 
But the CDC and other health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a flu vaccine every year for anyone older than 6 months. The vaccine especially is important for people who might develop complications, such as pneumonia, from the flu – this includes people older than 65 or people with asthma or other respiratory illnesses – as well as pregnant women and anyone caring for someone who might be struck harder than normal with the flu.
 
How does the vaccine work?
The most common flu vaccine is a trivalent one made of three parts, sort of a best-guess made by physicians about the flu viruses they think will be circulating in the upcoming season. It usually is available either as a shot or a nasal spray. When you get the vaccine, your body creates antibodies against the viruses that have just been put into your system – in a weakened form – and those antibodies ward off the full-strength version of the virus.
 
Is there anyone who should not be vaccinated?
The flu vaccine is not safe for people who are allergic to eggs or who have had Guillan-Barre Syndrom, which is a severe paralytic illness. The vaccine also isn't recommended for infants younger than 6 months. You should not get the vaccine if you've had a moderate to severe illness with a fever; you may have the vaccine after you fully recover.
 
When should I get the vaccine?
The CDC estimates as many as 149 million vaccines will be available this season; some shipments were out as early as August. Flu season usually peaks around January or February, so it's best to get the vaccine early in the season. My pediatrician usually has doses available beginning in mid- to late September.
 
Where to get the vaccine?
Many workplaces, including mine, offer the vaccine for free or a small fee. Your pediatrician or family doctor should have doses available. Local clinics and drugstores or pharmacies also should have the vaccine available. At the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm), you can search for flu vaccine clinics by typing in your zip code.
 
Will it hurt? Will I get sick?
The flu vaccine shot stings a bit and might make your arm sore. Mine was stiff for about a day. You also might have a low fever or aches. The nasal spray vaccine might cause a runny nose, headache, cough or, in children, vomiting or diarrhea.
 
How long will it take to work?
Your body usually takes about two weeks to build up the appropriate antibodies. So, if you get the vaccine by Halloween, you should be well protected by the time you head to Aunt Betty's for Thanksgiving, which is good because you never know what Uncle Dan is passing around with the cranberry sauce.
 
 
Hillary Copsey is a newspaper features editor (and former health reporter) in Florida with experience writing about everything from population trends to health-care issues. As the mother of two boys, she also is versed in searching for daycares, cooking healthy dinners on the fly and playing with trucks. She co-writes the blog Not raising brats. She writes about parenting for dailySpark and BabyFit.com.
 
 


Will you get a flu shot this year?



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Comments

  • 116
    No. I have not gotten the shot for the past 4 years and not gotten it for my children either. I think it's interesting that folks who urge others to get the flu shot believe themselves to be the only ones who are 'informed'. There is a lot of information out there about the flu shot. I guess it all boils down to which information you trust, and your own personal situation/experience. - 12/13/2014   12:26:21 PM
  • BOB7732
    115
    I had the flu shot once & then got sick & was told by this doctor 'he [me] has the flu] so stayed there 24hrs, this was after I got the shot too. So guess you can get the flu even after you get the shot? I am 59 & been getting the shot for years, but last year I got sick, some people never get sick [flu or others]. - 11/12/2014   10:16:42 AM
  • ALTERNATIVELIFE
    114
    NOOOOO! I will boost my immune system instead. I posted this on my face book page - alternative health

    http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/go
    vernment-pays-damages-to-vaccine-vi
    ctims-flu-shot-most-dangerous-with-
    gbs-and-death-settlements
    /

    www.facebook.com/excitingoils



    - 11/4/2014   1:06:26 PM
  • 113
    I've never gotten a flu shot though I'm asthmatic, however I'm seriously allergic to eggs so it's a good thing I never did. I do get the flu about 2x a year but then again I'm an extremely stressed college student so it makes sense anyway... - 10/20/2014   1:27:01 AM
  • ERASGIRL
    112
    I have never had the flu and don't plan on ever getting the shot. Not a fan of ANY kind of drugs....side effects are often worse than the sickness. - 10/19/2014   11:58:57 PM
  • 111
    All the comments are very interesting. Here is my 2 cents: I don't get the shot, and never will. I've only had one flue in the past 10 years and it was during the H1N1 scare. I've been 3 years without getting a cold (stopped hanging out with school kids), and seriously logical prevention measures work as well as a shot.

    I don't want anyone to think that I'm either for or against - each person is entitled to their own (informed) choices.

    And for those who are emphasizing the US in your comments - opinions for the flue shot are just about as firmly entrenched in Canada, but we normally chose to "agree to disagree" ;) - 10/19/2014   11:21:19 PM
  • 110
    Get your flu shot guys! Do your own research. It's not just protecting you, but protecting those people who for actual medical reasons can't get their shot. It doesn't matter if you've never gotten the flu, I've never gotten it either! I still get my flu every year. - 10/19/2014   7:47:39 PM
  • 109
    I feel it is my duty as a teacher to get one. I work in a germ filled environment, surrounded by little ones with questionable hygiene at the best of times. The flu can kill children and those with compromised immune systems. I need to make sure I don't get sick or get the little ones sick.
    - 10/19/2014   6:18:51 PM
  • 108
    PLEASE, PLEASE, please get your flu shot. It is not only to protect you. Flu is not a fun disease to have. The shot by protecting you protects others around you as well. Anyone with a compromised immune system who might contract flu from a non-immunized person and then experience lethal consequences. - 10/2/2014   10:37:02 AM
  • SWTLULU2007
    107
    I have never had a flu shot and have not had the flu, since I was small. The only thing I get is colds and the norovirus or 24 hour flu that the flu shot does not protect you from anyway. It is not for me. - 1/29/2014   6:04:38 PM
  • 106
    I don't get flu shots I don't see the point, I get by just fine without one and am healthy so I'm not subjecting myself to it~ - 11/21/2013   11:59:34 PM
  • 105
    Flu shots make me sicker than sick. When I don't get it, I don't get sick. When I do get it I get so sick it develops into a pneumonia or bronchitis or worse, one year I got both at the same time. - 8/22/2013   7:40:06 AM
  • WHYBEANURSE
    104
    I think that people have a right to decide if they want it or not. Nobody should push anything on anybody. This is especially for the lady that said it should be a criminal offense. Maybe you are living in the wrong country. Apparently you are not happy with free choice?Last time I checked, this was America! You might like your rights taken away but some people DON'T!! Regardless of if I think people should get them, it is always their choice. To say that certain groups of people should be held to different standards than others just because of their job title is just plain WRONG!! Maybe you should start demanding that the cashier at the grocery store be vaccinated for YOU! Or maybe the people that work in the drive thru for YOU! The lady at the make up counter should be filled full of shots for YOU! What else can people do for YOU!! Maybe you should be dropped on a deserted island so that you won't get a germ from anyone! Sounds like a better solution to me. Just because I am a nurse, does not give YOU the right to decide what goes into my body. Now let me get off my soap box!! - 1/6/2013   10:17:16 PM
  • 103
    I will never, ever get a flu shot!
    Since the medical community has no idea what strain of flu will be going around, they take a guess and pick something they "THINK" might be the one.
    Really, a guess, that's not very comforting. That kind of haphazard conjector is not how I like my medical advice given. I'd rather take my chances.

    I work in the germiest place in the world. An international airport. It's worse than any hospital. Every germ in the world comes through my workplace. There is no disinfection or sanitation of any surfaces - ever.
    I wash my hands often, sanitize my work surfaces & use hand sanitizer. I rarely get sick. The last time I had the flu, I was 10 ~ I've never had the flu, as an adult. Maybe every other year I get a cold. - 11/25/2012   11:48:42 AM
  • 102
    In the past when I have taken a flu shot I get really sick and for that reason it was years before I had one until September 2012. As a newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetic my primary care doctor recommended I take both the flu and pneumonia shots this year. I did and was a little sickly but nothing like in the past. With a low auto-immune system and diabetes I guess it's worth repeating next year. - 11/6/2012   6:23:13 PM
  • PINK4YOUTOO
    101
    Probably not. Eating, sleeping and being more particular about what foods I eat, with exercise is a good defense! - 11/6/2012   9:22:30 AM
  • 100
    I think some of these comments are over dramatic and a bit inappropriate.

    Personally, I haven't had the flu since I was 5. I don't want to take a shot each year that makes me feel crummy so that I won't get sick. I fully believe in vaccination, just not this one. I think it is a personal choice. When I have kids, I might be more inclined to get it, as I'm sure they'll bring home more bugs. ;) - 11/6/2012   8:39:11 AM
  • 99
    No flu shot for me. I eat a balanced diet, work out and try to keep my immune system up naturally.
    The 'obsession' about getting flu shots seem very American to me (NO offence intended).

    P.S.: My idea seems to work. I haven't had the flu since 1996! - 11/6/2012   4:42:34 AM
  • JANI-LOU
    98
    I had one this year for the first time ever because our work was offering them for free. I do work with people eighty hours a week, in many different homes and environments. My arm didn't even get sore, which tells me I probably had absolutely no immunity built up to the flu strains in the vaccine. I'm glad I had it. I believe in vaccination. I was an RN for fifteen years and I've seen what happens when people don't vaccinate their children. - 11/5/2012   8:57:48 AM
  • MHOULE306
    97
    I had never taken the flu shot before,because I rarely have flus.But since I suffer from asthma,and had a new baby to care for ,I decided that we both should take the shots as a safety net.However it never worked. My baby had the flu so bad that his temperature caused him to fall into convulsion twice.Soon after I had the flu,it was like I had never had it so bad before, with high fever, aches,runny nose and the worst strep throat ever. Aren't these shots suppose to prevent this from happening.Instead it made things worst.Never felt this way before. - 11/4/2012   6:25:29 PM
  • JULIA1154
    96
    By the way, is it really necessary (or helpful) to have such exaggerated and dramatic illustrations? - 11/4/2012   6:24:30 PM
  • 95
    I don't know why anyone would not get a flu shot! I think all health insurance policies cover them for preventive medicine. The last time I was sick with the flu, I was so weak I couldn't even get out of bed. I never want that feeling again! - 11/4/2012   10:01:11 AM
  • 94
    I take very good care of myself, and take most of the measures others mentioned to prevent infection, but I still got the flu last year, and it was horrendous. I had simply forgotten to get the vaccine, which I will NEVER do again. Now I'm in nursing school, so I will be required to get it anyway, but regardless of that, my family and I will always receive the vaccine (and others). - 11/4/2012   9:26:33 AM
  • 93
    I do not get flu shots. I don't want to put a mix of toxic chemicals & virus in my body. I believe in natural immunity through supplementation, nutrition, exercise & sleep. :-) I haven't been sick.... in YEARS! - 11/4/2012   8:04:33 AM
  • NURSEMALLON
    92
    Initially, I was not going to comment after reading the article. However, after seeing the various comments noted below I felt compelled to comment. There are other ways to keep your immunity up and ward off not only the flu but a host of other ailments. First you eat a large portion of fruits and veggies for their great vitamins and antioxidant properties Decrease the sugar in your diet because that lowers your immunity greatly. You exercise, get your sleep, take your vitamin D3 and Omega 3's, wash your hands and keep them away from your face. Use paper towels in the bathroom instead of cloth, especially if someone else is sick within your household ~ so you don't spread the germs around more on those cloth towels that hang there and multiply the germs on that damp surface. According to some experts, the efficacy of the flu vaccine is only 50-55% . . . hmmm? Seems to me big pharma is making moe money ~
    And, by the way, until November 6th, it is still America ~ where we have the right to choose. - 11/4/2012   8:03:20 AM
  • JPEARL127
    91
    Because I taught school, I got a flu shot every year, and I have continued that habit now that I have retired. Our entire household has gotten the shots, mainly because I also suffer from chronic bronchitis. I learned this year that the dosage is higher for people over 65, so I will always be sure to check wherever I get the shot to be sure I am getting the proper dosage. - 11/4/2012   7:35:40 AM
  • 90
    If I understand how it works, just because I am not sick with the flu does not mean I am not a carrier. So I can be fine myself but still infect other people.

    So how does getting a flu shot prevent me from being a carrier? I can still pick up the virus and carry it around with me, passing it on to other people. I find that argument - get the shot so you don't infect anyone else - to be very weak. The vaccination MAY help one avoid getting sick oneself - notice the MAY; it is not a guarantee.

    And to the lady who commented way down below that it should be criminal not to get the shot...well, I have a number of words for you that would get me banned from SP. Do not ever DARE to tell me what I am required to put into my body. You live your life the way you want and afford others the same courtesy. You don't like your neighbours' habits...then keep your kids away from them. And maybe teach them some basic self-care practices like hand-washing and not touching their eyes/nose/mouth...and get them the shot you are so in love with. But do not try to force your preferences on me. - 11/4/2012   3:31:10 AM
  • 89
    I have not suffered from a bout of the flu since 1993. One reason is because I absolutely refuse to get a flu shot! Never have, never will! - 11/4/2012   12:34:31 AM
  • 88
    I was required to get one for my job. I work in a hospital in medical records, so very limited contact with patients. Since I work in the same building, though, I had to get one. I was sick for a week from it. I never get the flu, and I had a fever and my whole body ached. I will definitely be looking for a job that doesn't require me to do this to my body next year. - 11/3/2012   11:34:50 PM
  • ONLYTEMPORARY
    87
    I never get the shot, I refuse to be one of the statistics of dying from it. 2 friends that had one, died within a week of getting them. To me, it's not worth it and I go years without getting the flu. - 11/3/2012   2:09:46 PM
  • 86
    No, I don't get the shot. I am not in a high risk group. I donít work around anyone in a high risk group. As far as being a carrier, possibly however I am diligent about hand washing and covering my mouth and nose to keep down the risks to others. My Doctor hasnít said anything about me getting/needing the shot but boy the pharmacy bugs me about it every time I get a refill. It is annoying. - 11/3/2012   1:41:43 PM
  • 85
    No, I don't get the shot. I am not in a high risk group. I donít work around anyone in a high risk group. As far as being a carrier, possibly however I am diligent about hand washing and covering my mouth and nose to keep down the risks to others. My Doctor hasnít said anything about me getting/needing the shot but boy the pharmacy bugs me about it every time I get a refill. It is annoying. - 11/3/2012   1:39:36 PM
  • 84
    Never take these.Very interesting the flu that hits is seldom the one they are giving immunity for - 11/3/2012   12:12:57 PM
  • 83
    It wouldn't let me vote yesterday, and it won't let me vote today. My vote would be NO! I got one last year for the first time, and I could not raise my arm above my head without pain for a good 10 weeks afterward. In looking around online, it's not an uncommon reaction. I'll wait until I am too old and frail to dress myself and someone else is making my medical decisions. - 11/3/2012   9:49:17 AM
  • 82
    It wouldn't let me vote, even after logging in. so add one to "already have," if you want accurate stats. - 11/3/2012   9:17:22 AM
  • 81
    I have an artificial heart valve so I'm in one of the high risk groups that they recommend getting the flu shot. I have had one every years since I first got my new heart valve. I've only been sick with a cold/flu once in 6 years. I've had lots of other health problems relating to my heart condition but haven't had to deal with the flu on top of all that.

    With that said, my daughter will NEVER get a flu shot again. She had one for the first time four years ago and came down with viral meningitis 10 days after the shot. By the time she was finally properly diagnosed she almost died and ended being in the hospital for five days. I don't know with 100% certainty that she got sick from the flu shot but I'm fairly certain there was a correlation. Last month, she was again hospitalized with meningitis and after a lot of testing and dealing with frustrating doctors, she was diagnosed with Lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that can cause the body to attack healthy cells rather than fight infections. After learning more about Lupus, I'm even more convinced there was a correlation between getting the flu shot and having meningitis the first time. Of course at that time no one knew she had Lupus.

    I wish the article had included a statement about talking with your doctor and making the best choice for YOU. Do the benefits outweigh the risks in your situation or do the risks outweigh the benefits? This is an individual choice and should be made after weighing all the information. - 11/3/2012   6:19:49 AM
  • BBROBOZIO
    80
    Influenza kills people. H1N1 came on the scene and killed 17 yr olds and pregnant women. You cannot contract influenza die to receiving the vaccine. There are many people who have their own little story, but research is research. If you are around other people, get the flu shot. PS I am the mother of five children and an RN with nearly 20 years of experience. I have worked in a Pediatricians's office for five years. I know what I'm talking about. - 11/3/2012   12:19:11 AM
  • MARYJEANSL
    79
    I won't get a flu shot. One year my husband, who is in the military, was required to get the shot. The kids and I did not. Guess who got the flu - my husband. I have never seen anyone as sick as he was. I wanted to take him to the ER, but he refused. I was very frightened. Finally he went to the doctor and they gave him an antiviral, and he did eventually recover. The kids and I stayed healthy. - 11/2/2012   10:35:34 PM
  • 78
    I have only had a flu shot 2 times, and that has been the only time that I have gotten the flu. No more flu shots for me. - 11/2/2012   10:20:39 PM
  • BEST_LIFE_NOW
    77
    I'm still not convinced. Whatever happened to 'wash your hands'? Seems like we over-complicate everything. - 11/2/2012   9:15:54 PM
  • 76
    I personally do not believe in the shot myself. I haven't had the flu since I was 13. - 11/2/2012   4:47:06 PM
  • 75
    Since I was Crohnes Disease, I will get a flu shot. My mom never gets one but has always been a carrier of diseases but rarely gets them. She has given me diseases frequently over the years. Thankfully I am married and live out of state now. I seldom see her this time of year as I don't like to travel in the late fall or winter months since we have a dairy farm. My spouse and I do all the chores except for seasonal help during crop season. - 11/2/2012   4:32:18 PM
  • 74
    I commented earlier, and I've been reading some of the comments since. I would like to say thank you to some of those who have mentioned that not getting the shot means potentially being a carrier. THAT was actually a more useful point in the discussion than anything the article provided. It might not change my mind, but that was what I originally expected this article to provide - real REASONS. - 11/2/2012   4:05:46 PM
  • 73
    Hey - FIT artist - that isn't true. Where did you get your info? - 11/2/2012   2:51:55 PM
  • 72
    I got a flu shot this year, though I've only gotten them maybe 4 times in my life. When I have gotten the flu shot, it has given me a fever a couple times. I haven't had a full-on flu in a good 25 years, despite few shots. I got one this year because I'm 7 months pregnant and don't want to take any chances. I was worried about getting a fever from the shot, but my doctor said the baby could handle me getting a little sick (like from side effects of the shot), but it could be serious if I got a bad flu. I couldn't forgive myself if I didn't get the shot and got the flu and made my baby sick. Also, I was told the immunization will get passed on to my baby, so she'll be better protected in her infancy. With so many people wanting to see her after she is born, I want her immunized (I will make them wait at least two weeks and make them wash their hands, etc. just to be extra safe). - 11/2/2012   2:30:53 PM
  • 71
    While I did get a shot this year, I have some fears. Just how safe IS our drug supply? Meningitis from steroid shots? Yikes! Do you know how many people in this country get those shots? I've had a knee replacement, so I see my surgeon every year. I've gotten a shot in the other knee several times, but after losing 60 pounds (yeah SP!!) I really didn't need one this year. I am so glad I passed on it this time around. I'm just a tad worried about the scope of the problem. I remember the case at Duke when the replacement parts had been sterilized in some sort of industrial oil and that went on for over a year with patients getting parts that were not sterile but contaminated. There were many repercussions on that one. Just makes me cautions and more than a bit suspicious. - 11/2/2012   2:18:47 PM
  • 70
    I'm North of 65 and do get the flu shot every year. I also have gotten my pneumonia shot. I got the shingles vaccine as well. I had the shingles twice in my 40's. The shingles vaccine isn't going to eliminate the possibility of getting shingles again, it is supposed to make it milder. That would be very good. I suspect the same is true of the other vaccines as well. Statistically, deaths from flu, pneumonia, and long term bad consequences of shingles are fewer for those who have the vaccines. - 11/2/2012   2:12:29 PM
  • 69
    FYI; MOST doctors do NOT have their families/children immunized. Hmmm... - 11/2/2012   12:39:42 PM
  • 68
    I totally believe in the flu shot. I did work for many years for the school board, and with my own kids at home, I found I was getting sick, whenever these kids were. Now, it doesn't stop you from getting a cold, but it definitely stops the Flu. Of course, it doesn't stop other illnesses! I had my flu shot, about 10 days ago. I advise everyone to get one. - 11/2/2012   12:31:40 PM
  • CHANGINGK
    67
    Also logged in and unable to vote. I have already received my flu shot. I am one year out from radiation treatment for breast cancer and my oncologist strongly suggested I have the shot since I am still in the doctors office so often. Just a sore arm is all I have ever had. - 11/2/2012   12:01:24 PM

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