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

By , Hillary Copsey
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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WILDKAT781 6/23/2020
thanks Report
SCOUTFINCH18 8/29/2019
This article needs to be updated. There is now a flu vaccine that is produced without using eggs, so people who might be allergic to eggs can get the cell culture based version. Also, there is a version available that contains 4 strains of flu, called quadrivalent and you can ask for it. Finally, for folks over 65 whose immune systems may not be as efficient or who have chronic conditions, there is a version of vaccine that is more powerful and protective. Bottom line, if you've ever actually had the flu or known about children who have died from the flu (80,000 in 2017-2018), you'll understand the benefit of getting the shot. Report
I get one every year. Consider the avaerage annual death toll from the flu is 35000 and not getting one is kinda dumb. Report
I get one every year. I wouldn't go without it. has never made me sick. Report
Getting my flu shot next week. Forgot to get it last year and I was out for a week, and I'm a person who never gets sick! I should have known better, I have littles in the house and they spread germs like it's their job! Report
Great arguments for getting a flu shot. Report
Anyone saying they’d “just suffer through it” hasn’t had the actual flu - it can (and does) kill otherwise healthy adults! And it kills them pretty quick. It came close to doing me in when I was 29 - I was lucky and trusted my instincts about going to the emergency room soon enough to save my liife. Get the shot. It’s not prefect but it’s your best defense. Report
No, I don't get the flu shot. I don't get the flu, and even if I did, I'd just suffer through it. I don't believe this shot is necessary. Report
Believe it or not, my husband and I were just talking about this this morning. He asked me if I had tqken my flu shot yet. I told him no, but I planed to take it soon. Report
I have not always gotten a flu shot, but now I get one every year. Good for you! Report
I'm allergic to eggs, therefore I've never had a flu shot. I've been blessed never to have had the flu. (I'm over 60). Report
I'm getting older! I had to accept that when I started trying to lose weight and then turned 60. So I'll be getting a flu shot this year! Report
This is an old article, but the debate resurfaces every year. I think it's great that there's a vaccine available for people who need or want it, or who interact regularly with high-risk individuals. Since that doesn't describe me, I have no interest in getting it. I also don't think it should be mandatory, except perhaps for health care providers who work with susceptible patients. I believe in free choice and personal accountability: it is the responsibility of individuals who consider themselves "high risk"
to get THEMSELVES vaccinated -- not mine. Report
I am in the group who does not get flu shots because I have a major reaction. As a child I was on an allergy shot program for a while until my reactions made the shots worse than my allergies. I have had serious reactions to a number of vaccines. It is good for those of us in that group that so many other people do get the vaccines since it lowers the general exposure level in areas we go. We do not go into some areas in times of high reported local incidence to help reduce our exposure even when it means we have to skip some events or activities of interest. There are no eggs involved in allergy shots either. I apparently react strongly to a common human antigen in pooled serum that I do not have. Report
I'm not anti-vaccine at all, but I don't do the flu shot thing. I got the flu shot once, and I've only ever gotten the flu once in my life (not the same year). I never got the shot or the flu growing up and my kids are the exact shot & no flu. I feel like if I get the flu, it will suck for a week or so & I'll get some rest. The one time I got the flu was in my first trimester of my first pregnancy (a very delicate time). I rested up, got better, and had a perfectly healthy baby girl! There's really no need for an extra shot for an illness that is just uncomfortable.

Having said that, if you're elderly or have a compromised immune system, go for it. I've just never really been a believer.

The biggest soap box I get on is when others try to push me or anyone else into getting one. If they're so concerned, they can get the shot & feel good about it...leave the rest of us alone, please! It's a personal decision & really no one else's place to tell you whether or not it's "best" for you. Report
The only flu shots I've gotten my whole life were those I was forced to receive in the military. (I tried to refuse -- it didn't work.)
You know what happens with a flu? The virus mutates. That flu shot you received that you think will protect you or your loved ones? Not applicable. Sorry. It's like fitting a round peg in a square hole -- not happening. The shot may protect against the original strain, but not the mutated one. That's usually what happens. That's why your flu shot isn't "working."
My biggest concern is with jobs that require workers to get the flu shot. Even though, in my belief, it results in complacency among the healthcare workers b/c they have the flu shot. I'd rather skip the flu shot and wear a mask for 4 months (or indefinitely) in patient-care situation. That would be less-likely to transmit the flu. But hey, a shot gives people the illusion of being "protected," even thought the truth is anything but. There isn't enough money in the world to convince me that injecting myself with thimerosal is a good idea. I do everything I can to prevent exposing my loved ones to this, even those that are required to get the shot b/c of their job. (Yes, there are preservative-free options. They're the less-worse of the possibilities.)
Yes, I am a trained healthcare provider. And I am anti-flu shot.
I am not anti-vaccination for the major illnesses, but I am VERY anti-flu shot.
This should be a personal decision, not one based on the employer. Report
I have not had a flu shot for over 12 years. Never got the flu either. I do not believe in them.. they are usually not worth it. Like this year, less that 30% effective? What a waste of time. I will wash my hands! Use my gel cleaner, and take my Vitamin D3! Report
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. Report
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]. Report
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... Report
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. Report
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" ;) Report
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. Report
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.
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. Report
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. Report
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~ Report
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. Report
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!! Report
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. Report
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. Report
Probably not. Eating, sleeping and being more particular about what foods I eat, with exercise is a good defense! Report
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. ;) Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. Report
By the way, is it really necessary (or helpful) to have such exaggerated and dramatic illustrations? Report
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! Report
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). Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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. Report
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. Report
No, I don't get the shot. I am not in a high risk group. I don’t 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 hasn’t 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. Report
No, I don't get the shot. I am not in a high risk group. I don’t 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 hasn’t 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. Report
Never take these.Very interesting the flu that hits is seldom the one they are giving immunity for Report