Deciding About Getting the H1N1 Influenza (Swine Flu) Vaccine

Topic Overview

What is the H1N1 flu vaccine?

H1N1 flu, sometimes called swine flu, is a type of influenza that is similar to the common seasonal flu. The H1N1 flu vaccine helps the body build immunity against the H1N1 flu virus. The vaccine causes your immune system to make antibodies. Then if you are exposed to the flu later, the antibodies can attack and destroy the virus.

It takes about 2 weeks for your body to make the antibodies. So the best time to get the vaccine is as soon as it's available in your area.

There are two types of the H1N1 vaccine: a shot(What is a PDF document?) , and a nasal spray(What is a PDF document?) that you breathe in through your nose. The nasal spray vaccine cannot be given to pregnant women and people with some health problems, because it contains a weakened but live form of the virus. But these groups can get the H1N1 shot. Check with your doctor or local health department to find out which type of vaccine is best for you.

Why should you consider getting the H1N1 flu vaccine?

In most cases, H1N1 flu is not serious and you get over it on your own. But in some cases, it might lead to serious illness or even death.

The H1N1 flu vaccine may help keep you from getting the flu. And it can help prevent the spread of the flu to others and help end the worldwide outbreak of the H1N1 flu.

Getting the vaccine is especially important for:

  • Pregnant women.
  • People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age.
  • Health care workers who take care of sick people.
  • People ages 6 months to 24 years.
  • People 25 to 64 years old who have long-term (chronic) health problems (such as asthma or diabetes) or who have a weak immune system.

The vaccine may not always keep you from getting the flu, but it can make the symptoms milder and lower the risk of getting other health problems from the flu.

Does the vaccine have risks or side effects you should know about?

Since the H1N1 flu vaccine is new, the risks and side effects are not yet completely known. But the side effects seem to be like the side effects from the seasonal flu vaccine, which can cause mild problems such as soreness, redness, and swelling on the arm where you got the vaccine. Or you may have a fever and muscle aches for a day or two after you get the vaccine. All side effects from the H1N1 flu vaccine won't be known until millions of the vaccines are given.

As people get the H1N1 flu vaccine, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will report any rare or unexpected reactions. For up-to-date information on the vaccine and possible side effects, visit the CDC’s Web site at

In most cases, the protection the vaccine provides outweighs the risk of getting other health problems from the H1N1 flu.

As with the seasonal flu vaccine, some people should not get the H1N1 flu vaccine without talking to their doctor first. These include people who are allergic to eggs, those who have had a serious reaction to the seasonal flu vaccine in the past, and people who have certain health problems. The H1N1 flu vaccine is not recommended for children younger than 6 months.

Can you get the seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 vaccine at the same time?

It depends on the type of vaccines you get. For example, you can get both vaccines at the same time if both are given as a shot or if one is given as a shot and the other as a nasal spray. But you can’t get both vaccines at the same time if both are given through a nasal spray.

Check with your doctor or local health department about what’s right for you. The sooner you get the vaccines, the better. This may mean getting one of the vaccines now and one a little later.

What other things can you do to prevent getting the H1N1 flu?

In addition to getting the H1N1 flu vaccine, you can do some other things to keep from getting sick:

  • Avoid close contact with others who are sick.
  • Wash your hands often, using soap and water. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also work well.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try not to touch surfaces that may be contaminated with the virus. Some viruses and bacteria can live for 2 hours or longer on surfaces such as doorknobs, cafeteria tables, and desks.
  • If you are at high risk for serious problems from the flu, consider wearing a mask over your nose and mouth when you are in confined or crowded spaces, such as on an airplane. Whenever possible, avoid being in a crowd.
  • Try to stay in good general health. Get plenty of rest, eat healthy foods, and drink lots of fluids.

Latest Information About H1N1 Flu

These organizations are studying and keeping track of H1N1 flu, including what is being done to prevent its spread. Their Web sites have the most up-to-date information about H1N1 flu:

  • U.S. Government. You can find information at
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can find information at
  • World Health Organization (WHO). You can find information at

Other Places To Get Help


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Novel H1N1 Flu
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
Web Address:

The H1N1 flu site of the CDC provides the latest information on H1N1 flu (initially called swine flu), including:

  • Steps you can take to prevent H1N1 flu, and information about the H1N1 flu vaccine.
  • What to do if you or a family member gets sick.
  • National and international surveillance reports.
  • Facts and figures.
  • Background information about the beginnings of H1N1 flu.

World Health Organization
Avenue Appia 20
1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland  
Web Address:

The World Health Organization (WHO) is an agency of the United Nations. It has about 200 member states. WHO promotes technical cooperation among nations on health issues, carries out programs to control and eliminate disease, and strives to improve the quality of human life.

The Web site has information on many health topics, including health and disease related to travel.


Author Maria Essig
Editor Patrick Kilby
Associate Editor Tracy Landauer
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Christine Hahn, MD - Epidemiology
Last Updated November 10, 2009

Last Updated: November 10, 2009

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