Answer provided by Allison Baroco, MD, an Infectious Disease specialist at Augusta Health. Dr. Baroco attended the University of South Alabama Medical School and completed her residency and fellowship at the Eastern Virginia Medical School. She is ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases.
In addition to talking about when to get your flu shot, it's also important to talk about why you should get a flu shot. Many people skip the shot each year because they think they don't work or that the shot will give them the flu. But, many researchers have studied the flu and flu vaccine, and this is what they've discovered. This information can also be found at the CDC website, www.cdc.gov/features/flu/index.html.
The flu virus is constantly changing and evolving, so the flu vaccine is developed each year to protect against the viruses that experts believe will be the most common. So, this year's flu shot is different than last year's flu shot. Having received a flu shot last year does not provide protection this year.
A common misconception is that flu vaccines can give you the flu. They cannot. The most common side effects from a flu shot are soreness, redness and/or swelling where the shot was given, fever, and/or muscle aches. These side effects are NOT the flu. If you do experience any side effects, they are usually mild and short-lived, especially when compared to symptoms of a bad case of flu. In fact, flu vaccines are among the safest medical products in use. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years, and there has been extensive research supporting the safety of flu vaccines. CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closely monitor the safety of vaccines approved for use in the United States.
Although the effectiveness of the flu shot has varied year to year, here are some research findings to keep in mind:
- Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick from flu.
- Flu vaccination can help protect people who are at greater risk of getting seriously ill from flu, like pregnant women, older adults, people with chronic health conditions and young children (especially infants younger than 6 months old who are too young to get vaccinated).
- Flu vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick.
- Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of more serious flu outcomes, like hospitalizations.
- One study* showed that flu vaccine reduced children's risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012.
- In another study, flu vaccination was associated with a 71% reduction in flu-related hospitalizations among adults of all ages and a 77% reduction among adults 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.
- Flu vaccination is an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions. Vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who have had a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccination also has been shown to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%) and chronic lung disease (52%).
- Vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for several months after they are born. One study showed that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women was 92% effective in preventing flu-related hospitalizations among infants.
- Other studies have shown that vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalizations among older adults. One study that looked at flu vaccine effectiveness over the course of three flu seasons estimated that flu vaccination lowered the risk of hospitalization by 61% among people 50 years of age and older.
So don't be one of those folks who skip the shot this year. Even if you had a flu shot last year, you need one again this year. The flu shot won't give you the flu. The flu shot will give you, and those you love, some protection against the flu and the possibility of its serious complications.