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


By: , – Hillary Copsey
  :  123 comments   :  55,226 Views

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 (, 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

Will you get a flu shot this year?

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  • 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
    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
  • 66
    I casted my vote that i will not get a flu's not that i don't want to, but i'm one of those who are allergic to eggs... - 11/2/2012   11:31:25 AM
  • 65
    I choose not to get a flu shot due to not being in any of these high-risk groups:

    - the elderly (UK recommendation is those aged 65 or above)
    - patients with chronic lung diseases (asthma, COPD, etc.)
    - patients with chronic heart diseases (congenital heart disease, chronic heart failure, ischaemic heart disease)
    - patients with chronic liver diseases (including cirrhosis)
    - patients with chronic renal diseases (such as the nephrotic syndrome)
    - patients who are immunosuppressed (those with HIV or who are receiving drugs to suppress the immune system such as chemotherapy and long-term steroids) and their household contacts
    - people who live together in large numbers in an environment where influenza can spread rapidly, such as prisons, nursing homes, schools, and dormitories.
    - people who plan to attend or participate in a high profile important event with large amounts of people from various places (such as the Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, and the World's Fair).
    - people who are in the armed forces.
    - healthcare workers (both to prevent sickness and to prevent spread to patients)
    - pregnant women

    Doesn't help that I've had severe reactions to flu shots as have members of my close family (siblings, mom) :P. What a misleading title for an article by the way. - 11/2/2012   11:14:46 AM
  • 64
    I'm very disappointed in this article. Very biased almost as though they are getting payed to advertise flu shots. Everyone has the right to choose these things personally I don't get flue shots and my son won't but I don't judge anyone's choice. - 11/2/2012   10:52:43 AM
    Yah, my "healthy lifestyle" does not include the flu shot. I am disappointed that Spark would include this propaganda on their website without including both sides of this issue. It's unfortunate that so many people have been manipulated with fear and have not done their own research on this question. Studies show that If you get the flu shot 5 years in row, you are 10 times more likely to develop dementia. There is no real evidence that getting the flu shot prevents others around you from contracting it because you can still carry viruses. The only one that benefits from your getting a flu shot is Big Pharma. I'm not saying that nobody should get it, there are some that need it, but Big Pharma is not going to tell you about the risks to your own health, you need to research that yourself. Very reputable sources on line will give you this information, it's not a secret ...look it up and be informed before making a decision for yourself or your family. - 11/2/2012   10:49:13 AM
  • 62
    I have never had the flu, so no shot for me,my mother got them all it as far as i can remember but not my father so maybe genes have a role in this too? - 11/2/2012   10:19:40 AM
  • 61
    Every time I have gotten the flu shot I got sicker than I have ever been before a week or so after, when I do not get it I am fine. Personally prefer not to get them. I believe we have an immune system for a reason. - 11/2/2012   10:18:15 AM
  • 60
    I already got the flu shot and so did my whole family. None of us got sick from it. We have a doctor's office here that one day a year they offer the shots for free so we watch for it and get the shots. I have been getting the shots almost every year for many years and have never had any ill effects from it. I started getting them for 2 reasons. One was that it seemed I would get everything coming and going ( missing a lot of work) and the other was that I, being a nurse, worked with a lot of compromised patients sooo, I opted for the shot. I was scared with the first one that I might get sick but it never happened. The "stomach flu" is not the flu it is a virus that makes you have diarrhea and or throw up and not the same as the influenza virus which mostly effects your lungs. - 11/2/2012   10:11:35 AM
    Yes, I already did. I am very healthy, but I have family and friends with compromised immune systems. Avoiding the flu means less chance of sharing the flu. - 11/2/2012   9:21:24 AM
  • 58
    I got my flu shot through my employer. A few years ago, my coworkers tried to get me to go for the annual flu shot and I would not go...after all I was very healthy and didn't believe in those things. About a month later, I got something that made me feel horrible and got pnemonia along the way during the illness. I was never officially told I had the flu, but I now get the shot. So far, so good! - 11/2/2012   9:12:57 AM
  • 57
    I'm in shock that some of the Sparkpeople community commenting actually think that STOMACH FLU is what you're vaccinating for?!... seriously people!!
    and there are no animal parts in the vaccine, everything is synthesized artificially and through bacteria. I'm a microbiologist, this is what I do. Talk about lack of information/education around here! I'm dissapointed - 11/2/2012   8:55:03 AM
  • 56
    All I can say is, check the ingredients in the flu shot such as mercury, etc, then decide if it is worth the risk. The FDA says it is safe but, they also at one point or other approved a lot of meds that proved very unsafe later in ones life!!! Just ask all the deformed or mentally challanged at birth children! - 11/2/2012   8:52:38 AM
  • 55
    I am pleasantly surprised to hear more yes comments than usual. A question of this sort usually draws out the anti flu vaccine folks.

    As a nurse I say yes, you do need a flu shot. If you don't, stay away from children under 5, seniors over 65, anyone with heart or lung disease, diabetes and those with compromised immune systems. Because you could make them sick and cause their death. - 11/2/2012   8:26:26 AM
  • 54
    1. DO get the flu vaccine.

    2. IF you have little ones and they get the flu MIST (the flu vaccine delivered via nasal spray) -- realize this is a live virus! And that means the virus can actively be spread for some time after the kiddos receive the mist. The mist is a live virus.

    3. WASH YOUR HANDS! COVER those coughs. Cough into your elbow.

    - 11/2/2012   8:05:48 AM
    I didn't start getting the flu shot until about 5 years ago when I turned 50; my place of work offers it for free and a clinic nurse visits my work site to administer the shots so this makes it very convenient. I guess I'm really lucky after reading how many people have had the flu in this blog but, prior to turning 50 and not getting the flu shot regularly, I believe my last bout with the flu was in my 20's - I haven't gotten it since then (knock on wood). I started getting the shot because I'm getting older and it was free! I actually haven't heard of that many people in my work location getting the flu - we really promote washing hands, staying home if you are sick, etc. to avoid passing things around. We all travel quite a bit and live in Houston, TX so have exposure to lots of people too! - 11/2/2012   8:04:58 AM
  • 52
    I'm definitely not saying you shouldn't get the flu shot, but I have never had the shot and I have never gotten the flu in the past 5 years since I have been eating right and exercising 7 days a week. So I think it depends on how healthy you are to begin with. - 11/2/2012   7:57:30 AM
    If you have ever suffered through the flu you'll know that getting the flu shot is a no brainer..........
    - 11/2/2012   7:41:40 AM
  • 50
    I find hard to believe the number of gullible people willing to believe the garbage profilerating on the internet about the dangers of vaccinations and the preservatives in them causing autism (poorly-designed small studies found tenuous links at best).

    For those of you selfishly thinking, "I don't get sick so I don't need a flu shot:" Yes, You Do! Everyone around you is subject to whatever you are carrying, even if you don't feel sick. Perhaps this is the year you do get sick. You are putting yourself, your family, your friends and neighbors and coworkers and everyone around you at increased risk of a nasty illness at best, a killer disease at worst.

    It's supremely selfish and yes, stupid, to think that you are smarter than so many real, well-designed and controlled institutional studies. Additionally, Thimerosol is vitually no longer used in the flu vaccine preparation, FYI. The mercury you might absorb is less than the amount in the can of tuna you fed your kids for lunch. A "dead" virus can't infect anyone.

    But then again, you won't have to feed your kids any more tuna if they are already dead from a killer flu you didn't vaccinate them from when you could have. Or perhaps your neighbor, who was exercising his or her rights not to vaccinate, let their kids infect yours and killed them.

    I think it should be a criminal offense. And for any medical personnel who believe the smegma that they should not get a flu shot? I'd like to know where you I can go somewhere else. You scare me.

    I normally don't get on such a soap box, but this idiocy just gets me off and running. Maybe there is an island somewhere for all those non-vaccinators to reside and slowly infect each other with all their "freedom." - 11/2/2012   7:31:04 AM
  • 49
    For me the flu shot is a given. I am fortunate that I never have a reaction. Before I started the vaccine I had the flu. Never again do I want to suffer like that. It took me weeks to recover. - 11/2/2012   7:28:12 AM
  • 48
    The last time I got the flu shot, a couple months later, my family and I came down with the worse stomach flu I had ever had. My son and I, who both had the shots, were sick for about 5 days. We actually had to get my in-laws come take our son for a couple days because my husband and I couldn't get out of bed. My husband was the only one of us who didn't get the shot and he was only sick for 2 days, he seemed to be the least affected, yet per the reasons to get the shot, he should have been the sickest. I stopped getting shots after that and have maybe had the flu twice since then (in 4 years), but each time have gotten over it quickly using natural remedies. My husband and son did get the flu shot the following year and they both got extremely sick again about 2 months later. Based on other peoples similar experiences and information I've read about the flu vaccine, I no longer get it for myself or my kids. - 11/2/2012   7:08:24 AM
  • 47
    There are so many other things in shots like formaldehyde, animal parts, etc. that I don't plan on getting any shots ever again. They're completely unnecessary and I regret that I let my daughter get vaccinated. When I way young I had all the recommended shots, we believe our doctors who don't know any better. My daughter had so many more doses than I did. It's the drug companies just looking to make money! - 11/2/2012   6:39:16 AM
  • 46
    Ever since I learned about activated charcoal, the flu shot seems unnecesary. My son and I both can't take the shot due to egg allergies. My others don't seem to get the flue. If we do get a stomach bug, even the flu, we take activated charcoal and in 90 minutes the bug is gone! Why go through the painful shot when you can just take care of it naturally? - 11/2/2012   6:22:54 AM
    If you notice that you have a low number of votes on your poll, it is probably because the log-in is not working properly. The figure on the number of deaths is not clear--is that a per year figure or over the course of the period reported? i.e., did 49,000 die one year and 3000 another? Or did somewhere between 3000 and 49000 die in the course of 31 years? If the latter, that's not particularly alarming. - 11/2/2012   6:16:11 AM
  • 44
    I work in a family practice office and we had our first sick person test positive for both influenza A and influenza B this week , so flu season is coming! - 11/2/2012   5:59:31 AM
  • JAJABEE199
    Like many others, I logged in but was unable to vote. I've already gotten my flu shot as early as was available. Never got a flu shot until 10 years ago after contracting the flu for the first time one October. Then understood how people could die from it, I felt so badly. Now I get the flu shot each year with no problems except a slightly sore arm the next day. No more flu so far. I happen to be a "multi" believer -- in modern medicine and alternative medicine. - 11/2/2012   5:39:04 AM
  • 42
    The article title is misleading. I clicked on it expecting an intelligent discussion of why / why not a flu vaccine might be recommended, not a page long "Get the shot & here's how".

    No, I will not get one. I have only ever done so once and I have never been as sick as I was after that shot - emergency room sick. Blind adherents please do not tell me there was no causal link to the flu shot. I know my body and health and I am convinced the shot made me sick. And not just sick but dangerously so.

    Aside from that the vaccine is merely a mix of someone's best GUESS of what flu strains will be circulating. No guarantees. As a society we are obsessed with making our environment as sterile as possible, which is not always a good thing.

    I think whether to get the flu vaccine each year is a personal choice. There are many people for whom it is probably beneficial - those who are ill, with compromised or weakened immune systems, etc - for whom the risks of flu outweigh the risks of the vaccine. But I do not believe it to be necessary for a "normal" healthy person - a choice, yes, but not a necessity.

    I think I have had the flu maybe once in the last 10 years, not counting my vaccine induced illness. I will continue to take my chances. - 11/2/2012   4:18:12 AM
    I already got my flu shot when I went for my physical in September. Never have I had the flu from getting the shot. Years ago I started getting the shot because I was always with my parents and/or their elderly friends more as protection for them than myself.

    Although I understand why some people don't want to take the shots, please, if you get sick stay home. Don't go to work, the grocery store, post office, etc. You just might keep somebody else from getting sick too. - 11/2/2012   12:50:39 AM
  • 40
    Comparing the numbers of people afflicted by the flu in the past centuries to these days is one reason I promote getting flu shots. I'm a pharmacist, and I get mine every year. You may not get sick from the flu, but you can still be a carrier if you don't get the shot - protect the ones you love! As far as concerns about contaminants and preservatives go, there are preservative-free options available, and SEVERAL studies show that there is no evidence to back up people's fears of harming their/their childrens' bodies by receiving vaccines. This virus is one that comes out with new strains over time, which is why you need to get one every year - it's a smart virus, that's why it has been around for so long. I worry about people who don't get the virus, especially when looking at the whooping cough outbreaks that have happened recently. Just because you haven't heard of anyone dying from a disease doesn't mean you shouldn't be vaccinated... we have come close to eradicating certain diseases with vaccines, and we have succeeded with polio! Just consider the risks and benefits, for the sake of your loved ones around you if not yourself. - 11/2/2012   12:34:54 AM
  • 39
    This is a poorly titled article. It asks "Do you really need a flu shot?" then just tells you basic surface information on where to get the shot and how it works. The title implies it will debate the pros and cons of the flu vaccine which would have been much more interesting and informative.
    - 11/1/2012   11:10:37 PM
    I have because is at the VA hospital - 11/1/2012   10:21:12 PM
  • 37
    I always get it as I catch hell from my GP if I do NOT, I refused to get the H1N1 when it was by itself (my doc didn't get it either). - 11/1/2012   9:12:27 PM
  • 36
    No beg deal and there is a first time for everything - 11/1/2012   7:58:37 PM
  • 35
    I know a researcher who works with flu viruses, and she made a good point to me. The people who refuse to get immunized and get sick? Putting OTHER PEOPLE at risk besides themselves. You could be infecting people with compromised immune systems and killing them. Mercury? You probably get more mercury in the fish you eat! How about you don't take the polio vaccine either and spread that through the population as well? - 11/1/2012   7:58:33 PM
    Well, at least I am pleased to see that there are quite a few people on here who do understand the dangers of vaccinations. Very few people "get it" and just blindly go about injecting themselves and their children with whatever "Big Pharma" tells them to. Lots of dangerous metals and other things like mercury, thimerosol, neurotoxins, etc. Do some research and you will discover that these vaccines are not what they are touted to be. Can be extremely dangerous. You don't have to believe me; just do the research yourself. - 11/1/2012   7:39:07 PM
  • 33
    I got the shot when they offered it at work two weeks ago. I eat healthy, run regularly, but still felt it was important for ME to get a flu shot. I have gotten the shot each fall for the past 4 years. Each individual needs to make this decision for him or herself, but it's important to be educated in these decisions. One article, whether from the CDC or another trustworthy source, should not be the only factor in one's decision. - 11/1/2012   7:31:36 PM
  • JULIA1154
    It won't let me vote but yes, I will. I tend not to get the flu very readily but I believe it's important to help protect other members of the community who may be more vulnerable. And, heaven knows, I don't want to risk the downtime that would ensue if I DID catch the flu! - 11/1/2012   7:08:36 PM
    No, I won't be getting one. It is everyone's right to do what they want and I don't believe in it . Until my body is unable to "fight" off illness, I can't see getting the shot and since I don't have medical insurance I can't see paying for one either.. - 11/1/2012   6:41:59 PM
  • 30
    I follow Dr. Mercola on his web site so I certainly am NOT getting a Flu Shot. - 11/1/2012   6:13:52 PM
  • 29
    got my pick a month ago, DD got hers an hour ago. - 11/1/2012   5:45:50 PM
  • 28
    The one year that the nurses looked at my young age and decided that I was not a high risk for the flu - I came down with the flu and was out sick for two weeks. My workplace suffered a loss in productivity because other coworkers and I was sick with the flu. Every other year, I have gotten the flu shot and the swine flu shot and have been flu free for the other years. I saw in the news that researchers are working on a multiple year vaccine for the flu virus. - 11/1/2012   5:41:54 PM
    I believe that every person has the right to decide whether or not they want to get a flu shot each year, but here is something to consider when making that decision. While it's difficult to estimate, seasonal flu is responsible for 3,000 - 49,000 deaths each year in the US (according to the CDC). That means, even at the low end, seasonal flu kills more people each year than were killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I want to make this comparison not to undermine the significance of 9/11, but to highlight the fact that seasonal flu is a serious illness. I elect to get the flu shot each year mostly to protect those people around me (I am a healthy person who could easily recover from an influenza infection). I would hate to think that I could spread the virus to someone who would be at risk of serious complications. - 11/1/2012   5:39:07 PM
  • 26
    I have stage IV breast cancer, and my immune system is compromised because I've been undergoing chemotherapy for over 2 1/2 years now, so I need to get the flu shots every year. I haven't had the flu in almost 5 years, despite having a crappy immune system.

    I have been getting the flu shots for years, and I've never had a bad reaction to one. - 11/1/2012   4:52:45 PM
  • 25
    When I was younger I did not worry about getting the flu vaccine or the flu, but now that I am older I consider it good preventive medicine. Since I work-out in a gym I am especially concerned about protecting myself. - 11/1/2012   4:45:03 PM
  • 24
    No I have a very bad reaction to it. I have only ever had the flu once. It was not H1N1 but it was so bad! The nurse told my normally I would have been admitted to the hospital, but they had little room and worse cases. I was fairly healthy before I got sick. It took me over a month before I felt better, but honestly, I have never felt like I did before.
    My daughters (11 months and 2 years) will be getting it. My two year old has spherocytosis and her spleen is already very enlarged. Not only does the disease lower immunity but with her spleen in the state it's in, it could get very bad very quick. Also some of her numbers are lower than they should be even with her medicine. My younger daughter will be getting it as a precaution for the older one. - 11/1/2012   4:24:09 PM

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