Should I Get the Flu Shot?

Lauren Goldbeck, Alex Pew, and Arista Jhanjee, Cancer Prevention & Treatment Fund

It’s that time of year again — time to get your flu shot! Everyone aged 6 months or over and without any restrictive health conditions is encouraged to get the vaccine every year.[1]

Flu season usually starts as early as October and can last all the way until May. The flu usually peaks between December and March. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October. Even if you don’t get your vaccine by then, it’s good to get vaccinated anytime during the flu season.

Check if your office, school, or local government is giving free flu vaccines first. If not, don’t worry! Most (if not all) pharmacies and doctors’ offices have the vaccine available and it is free (no co-pay at all) under nearly every insurance plan. Just call first to make sure the vaccine is available.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), health insurance companies have to provide free preventive services like the flu shot.[2] However, insurance companies can require you to go to certain places to get the shot. You should check with your insurance company first before getting your shot.

What’s New This Year?

This year, the CDC does not recommend getting the nasal spray form of the flu vaccine, which contains live viruses. This is because the nasal spray has not been effective for the last few years.[3]   We agree that the nasal spray vaccine is ineffective, so you should not get it even if you (or your children) don’t like shots. Even before that warning came out, researchers knew that the live viruses in the spray were too dangerous for pregnant women, because they could harm the baby.

Scientists change the flu vaccine every year to try to make it as effective as possible against the new flu strains that are most common that year. Vaccines are made with either three or four viral strains. This year’s vaccines differ from last year’s vaccines by a single strain.

How Effective is the Flu Vaccine in 2017-2018?

The most common flu viruses change every year. Since the new seasonal vaccine requires about 6 months to make, scientists have to do their best to predict which strains will be most common months in advance. These predictions aren’t always accurate.[4] In a good year, the vaccine can reduce your risk of getting the flu by 60%.[5] The evidence shows that the 2017 vaccine will probably reduce your risk of getting the flu by 50% this year. Although it’s far from perfect, it’s definitely worth getting.[6]

Can the Flu Shot Give Me the Flu?

No, the flu shot can’t give you the flu. The flu shot is made of proteins that come from dead viruses, so you can’t get infected. However, the flu shot can cause soreness, redness, or swelling around the injection site. It can also cause a low-grade fever or body aches.[7]

Things to Remember for Young Children

  • Children aged 6 months to 8 years who have never received a flu vaccine should get two doses of the vaccine. The two doses should be separated by at least 4 weeks.
  • Children aged 6 months to 8 years who have previously received 2 or more vaccine doses only need one dose this year.[1]

If I’m over 65, Is There Anything Different for Me?

As we age, the flu can be more dangerous and vaccines are less effective because our immune systems are not as strong. You may have seen a “high-dose flu vaccine” advertised for people over the age of 65.  Should you consider it?

The high-dose vaccine has four times as many flu proteins than the usual flu shot, and so it is expected to be more effective. Studies comparing the high-dose and standard-dose vaccines found that those who received the high-dose version (IIV3-HD) were better protected against the flu during the 2012-2013 flu season[8,9]. Unfortunately, the CDC reported that the high-dose flu vaccine was not more effective during the 2013-2014 season. And, individuals receiving the high-dose version also had more of the common side-effects from the flu shot, like a low-grade fever and soreness. Since there is no clear evidence that the high-dose vaccine has benefits that outweigh the risks, the CDC doesn’t have a recommendation for getting one vaccine over the other. However, facilities that offer flu shots may administer the high-dose shot without asking patients what they prefer. If you are 65 or older and don’t want the high-dose shot, you should say so when requesting a shot.

What Should I Do If I Have an Egg Allergy?

Flu injection options are very similar for individuals with and without egg allergies.

  • If your only reaction to eating eggs is hives
    • You can receive any flu vaccine.
  • If you have a severe reaction to eggs, including nausea/vomiting, changes in blood pressure, respiratory issues, and/or any reaction requiring medication or emergency medical attention (ex. anaphylaxis)…
    • You can receive any flu vaccine.
    • You should receive the vaccine in a medical setting and under the supervision of a provider who is trained to address allergic reactions.[10]

Can I Still Get the Flu Even After Getting the Flu Shot?

 Yes, you can still get the flu after getting the flu shot. There are many strains of the flu that could possibly infect you, and the shot doesn’t protect you against all strains. And as we said, it works better on people with stronger immune systems. Even if you do get the flu, it might be less severe if you’ve had the vaccine.

All articles on our website have been approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

References

  1. Grohskopf LA, Sokolow LZ, Broder KR, et al. Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — United States, 2017–18 Influenza Season. MMWR Recomm Rep 2017;66(No. RR-2):1–20. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.rr6602a. Accessed on September 8, 2017.
  2. Will the Affordable Care Act cover my flu shot? U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/answers/affordable-care-act/will-the-aca-cover-my-flu-shot/index.html.  Accessed on September 8, 2017.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). ACIP votes down use of LAIV for 2016-2017 flu season. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/s0622-laiv-flu.html. Accessed on September 8, 2017.
  4. Selecting Viruses for the Seasonal Influenza Vaccine. (2016). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/vaccine-selection.htm.  Accessed on September 8, 2017.
  5. Vaccine Effectiveness – How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work? (2017). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm.  Accessed on September 8, 2017.
  6. Flannery B, Chung JR, Thaker SN, et al. Interim Estimates of 2016–17 Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, February 2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:167–171. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6606a3.  Accessed on September 8, 2017.
  7. Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm. Accessed on September 13, 2017.
  8. Diaz Granadanos, C. A. et al. (2014). Efficacy of high-dose versus standard-dose influenza vaccine in older adults. N Engl J Med. 2014 Aug 14;371(7):635-45. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1315727. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25119609. Accessed on September 14, 2017.
  9. Shay, D., Chillarige, Y., Kelman, J., et al. (2017). Comparative Effectiveness of High-Dose Versus Standard-Dose Influenza Vaccines Among US Medicare Beneficiaries in Preventing Postinfluenza Deaths During 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. The Journal of Infectious Diseases; 215(4): 510-517. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jid/article/3058746. Accessed on September 18, 2017.
  10. Flu Vaccine and People with Egg Allergies. (2016). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/egg-allergies.htm.  Accessed on September 8, 2017.