Flu shots: Should I get a flu shot?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Flu shots: Should I get a flu shot?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Don't get a flu shot.

This Decision Point is about the seasonal flu shot. If you'd like information about the H1N1 flu (swine flu) vaccine, see Deciding About Getting the H1N1 Influenza Vaccine.

Key points to remember

  • Most people get better from the flu without problems, but the flu can be deadly. It can lead to serious health problems such as pneumonia, or it can make an existing disease worse. Every year, thousands of people end up in the hospital with other health problems from the flu.
  • A flu shot may not always keep you from getting the flu, but it can make the symptoms milder and lower the risk of other health problems from the flu.
  • A few people should not get a flu shot without talking to their doctor first. These include people who are allergic to eggs, those who have had a serious reaction to the vaccine in the past, and some people who are ill. The flu shot is not recommended for children younger than 6 months.
  • Anyone 6 months or older can get a flu shot. But it's most important to get one if you're at high risk for other health problems from the flu. Those at high risk include young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with chronic diseases or weak immune systems.
  • If you care for someone who is at high risk, it's a good idea to get a flu shot. This can lower the chance that you could spread the flu to the person you care for.
  • Flu viruses change quickly, so you need to get a flu shot every year.
  • You can't get the flu from a flu shot.
FAQs

What is the flu shot?

The flu shot(What is a PDF document?) is a vaccine that contains a killed form of three flu viruses. 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 flu shot is in October or November, before the flu season starts. But the shot can still help if you get it in December or later, since flu season most often peaks in January or February. The flu is a risk all year in the tropics. If you plan to travel to a tropical area, you still only need one flu shot in a year.

Flu viruses change quickly, so each year scientists make a new vaccine. To have the best chance of being protected, you need to get a flu shot every year. The viruses in a flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot.

A flu shot costs about $20 to $30. Most insurance companies will pay for it.

What about FluMist?

Another form of the flu vaccine is available as a spray that you breathe in through your nose. This vaccine, called FluMist, contains live but weak viruses.

Healthy people ages 2 through 49 years can usually use FluMist. Pregnant women can get the flu shot but not FluMist.

To find out more about this vaccine, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nasal spray flu vaccine(What is a PDF document?) statement.

Who should get the flu shot?

You should get a flu shot every year if you want to lower your chance of getting the flu. Anyone age 6 months or older can get a flu shot.

A flu shot is important for people who are at high risk for getting other health problems from the flu. This includes:

  • People who are age 50 or older. People age 65 or older are the most likely to have problems from the flu.
  • People who have long-term (chronic) diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and lung disease, including asthma.
  • People who live in nursing homes or long-term care centers.
  • People who have a weak immune system.
  • Women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season.
  • Children 6 months through 4 years of age. (The flu shot is recommended for all children from 6 months to 18 years of age.)

A flu shot is also important for people who could spread the flu to others who are at high risk. This includes:

  • Anyone who lives with or cares for a child who is younger than 5.
  • Anyone in close contact with a person who is at high risk for other health problems from the flu. This includes family, friends, and caregivers.
  • Health care workers.

Who should not get the flu shot?

Some people should not get the flu shot without talking to their doctor first. This includes:

  • People who are allergic to eggs.
  • People who have had a serious reaction to the flu shot in the past.
  • People who had a rare nerve disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome after they had a flu shot.
  • People who are already sick. If you are ill and have a fever, wait until you're better to get a flu shot.

The flu shot is not recommended for children who are younger than 6 months.

People who can't get the flu shot but are at risk from the flu may be able to take an antiviral medicine instead. For more information, see:

Click here to view a Decision Point. Flu: Should I take antiviral medicine?

What are the benefits of the flu shot?

The flu shot may keep you from getting the flu. This can save you time (fewer days missed from work or school) and money (fewer doctor visits, medicines, and hospital costs). The flu shot can also help prevent the spread of the flu to others.

If you do get the flu, your symptoms may be milder and you may be less likely to have other health problems from the flu.

What are the risks of the flu shot?

The flu shot may cause mild problems, such as soreness, redness, and swelling on the arm where you got the shot. You might also have a fever and muscle aches for a day or two after you get the shot.

The risk of a serious problem from the flu shot (such as a bad allergic reaction) is very small.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Get a flu shot Get a flu shot
  • You get a shot in your arm.
  • You get the shot at your doctor's office, workplace, health clinic, drugstore or grocery store, or any other place that offers it.
  • It may keep you from getting the flu.
  • If you do get the flu, your symptoms may be milder and you may be less likely to get other health problems from the flu.
  • You're less likely to spread the flu to others.
  • You might have:
    • Soreness, redness, and swelling where you got the shot.
    • A fever and muscle aches for a day or two.
    • An allergic reaction, but this is rare.
Don't get a flu shot Don't get a flu shot
  • You can take steps to prevent the flu: Wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your face.
  • You avoid the side effects of the flu shot.
  • You don't have to pay for a flu shot or take the time to get one.
  • You are more likely to get the flu.
  • If you do get the flu, you may:
    • Miss several days of work or school.
    • Spend time and money on doctor visits and on over-the-counter medicines.
    • Get other health problems from the flu that may need to be treated in a hospital.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

Personal stories about getting a flu shot

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I am in very good health for my age. Still, I get a flu shot every fall. Why take chances? I've seen too many friends end up in the hospital because they didn't take the flu seriously. I urge my kids to get it too, because you never know how nasty this year's flu strain might be.

Bert, age 68

I am terribly allergic to eggs, so I can't take the flu shot. Instead, I take antiviral medicine to help protect me from the flu. I have a family to support, including my dad who has kidney disease. So the last thing I need is to get the flu and bring it into the house.

Starla, age 42

My grandmother is in a nursing home, and I visit her every couple of weeks. I wouldn't want to risk giving her the flu, so I'm going to get a flu shot.

Betsy, age 17

At my age, I don't see any reason to get a flu shot. I'm very strong, and I hardly ever get sick. I'm not worried about getting the flu.

Quincy, age 25

If you need more information, see the topics:

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to get a flu shot

Reasons not to get a flu shot

I'll do whatever I can to avoid getting the flu.

I'm not worried about getting the flu.

More important
Equally important
More important

I can't afford to get sick and miss work or school.

I'm not worried about getting sick and missing work or school.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm a big believer in vaccines.

I don't trust vaccines.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm worried about getting other serious health problems from the flu.

I'm more worried about side effects from the shot.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Getting a flu shot

NOT getting a flu shot

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1.

Can you get the flu from a flu shot?

  • Yes Sorry, that's not right. The viruses in a flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot.
  • No That's right. The viruses in a flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "What is the flu shot?" The viruses in a flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot.
2.

Is the flu shot safe for everyone?

  • Yes Sorry, that's not right. Some people shouldn't get a flu shot without talking to their doctor first. These include people who are allergic to eggs and those who have had a bad reaction to the flu vaccine in the past.
  • No That's right. Some people shouldn't get a flu shot without talking to their doctor first. These include people who are allergic to eggs and those who have had a bad reaction to the flu vaccine in the past.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Who should not get the flu shot?" Some people, such as those who are allergic to eggs or who have had a bad reaction to the vaccine in the past, should check with their doctor first.
3.

Should you get a flu shot if you have a long-term (chronic) disease, such as diabetes or heart disease, or a weak immune system?

  • Yes That's right. It's important that people with chronic diseases or a weak immune system get a flu shot, because they are at high risk for other health problems from the flu.
  • No Sorry, that's not right. It's important that people with chronic diseases or a weak immune system get a flu shot, because they are at high risk for other health problems from the flu.
  • I'm not sure It may help to go back and read "Who should get the flu shot?" It's important that people with chronic diseases or a weak immune system get a flu shot, because they are at high risk for other health problems from the flu.

Decide what's next

1.

Do you understand the options available to you?

2.

Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3.

Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1.

How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure
3.

Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Your summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision  

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts  

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act  

Patient choices

Credits

Credits
Author Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease

Flu shots: Should I get a flu shot?

You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the facts

Your options

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Don't get a flu shot.

This Decision Point is about the seasonal flu shot. If you'd like information about the H1N1 flu (swine flu) vaccine, see Deciding About Getting the H1N1 Influenza Vaccine.

Key points to remember

  • Most people get better from the flu without problems, but the flu can be deadly. It can lead to serious health problems such as pneumonia, or it can make an existing disease worse. Every year, thousands of people end up in the hospital with other health problems from the flu.
  • A flu shot may not always keep you from getting the flu, but it can make the symptoms milder and lower the risk of other health problems from the flu.
  • A few people should not get a flu shot without talking to their doctor first. These include people who are allergic to eggs, those who have had a serious reaction to the vaccine in the past, and some people who are ill. The flu shot is not recommended for children younger than 6 months.
  • Anyone 6 months or older can get a flu shot. But it's most important to get one if you're at high risk for other health problems from the flu. Those at high risk include young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with chronic diseases or weak immune systems.
  • If you care for someone who is at high risk, it's a good idea to get a flu shot. This can lower the chance that you could spread the flu to the person you care for.
  • Flu viruses change quickly, so you need to get a flu shot every year.
  • You can't get the flu from a flu shot.
FAQs

What is the flu shot?

The flu shot (What is a PDF document?) is a vaccine that contains a killed form of three flu viruses. 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 flu shot is in October or November, before the flu season starts. But the shot can still help if you get it in December or later, since flu season most often peaks in January or February. The flu is a risk all year in the tropics. If you plan to travel to a tropical area, you still only need one flu shot in a year.

Flu viruses change quickly, so each year scientists make a new vaccine. To have the best chance of being protected, you need to get a flu shot every year. The viruses in a flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot.

A flu shot costs about $20 to $30. Most insurance companies will pay for it.

What about FluMist?

Another form of the flu vaccine is available as a spray that you breathe in through your nose. This vaccine, called FluMist, contains live but weak viruses.

Healthy people ages 2 through 49 years can usually use FluMist. Pregnant women can get the flu shot but not FluMist.

To find out more about this vaccine, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s nasal spray flu vaccine (What is a PDF document?) statement.

Who should get the flu shot?

You should get a flu shot every year if you want to lower your chance of getting the flu. Anyone age 6 months or older can get a flu shot.

A flu shot is important for people who are at high risk for getting other health problems from the flu. This includes:

  • People who are age 50 or older. People age 65 or older are the most likely to have problems from the flu.
  • People who have long-term (chronic) diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and lung disease, including asthma.
  • People who live in nursing homes or long-term care centers.
  • People who have a weak immune system.
  • Women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season.
  • Children 6 months through 4 years of age. (The flu shot is recommended for all children from 6 months to 18 years of age.)

A flu shot is also important for people who could spread the flu to others who are at high risk. This includes:

  • Anyone who lives with or cares for a child who is younger than 5.
  • Anyone in close contact with a person who is at high risk for other health problems from the flu. This includes family, friends, and caregivers.
  • Health care workers.

Who should not get the flu shot?

Some people should not get the flu shot without talking to their doctor first. This includes:

  • People who are allergic to eggs.
  • People who have had a serious reaction to the flu shot in the past.
  • People who had a rare nerve disorder called Guillain-Barré syndrome after they had a flu shot.
  • People who are already sick. If you are ill and have a fever, wait until you're better to get a flu shot.

The flu shot is not recommended for children who are younger than 6 months.

People who can't get the flu shot but are at risk from the flu may be able to take an antiviral medicine instead. For more information, see:

Click here to view a Decision Point. Flu: Should I take antiviral medicine?

What are the benefits of the flu shot?

The flu shot may keep you from getting the flu. This can save you time (fewer days missed from work or school) and money (fewer doctor visits, medicines, and hospital costs). The flu shot can also help prevent the spread of the flu to others.

If you do get the flu, your symptoms may be milder and you may be less likely to have other health problems from the flu.

What are the risks of the flu shot?

The flu shot may cause mild problems, such as soreness, redness, and swelling on the arm where you got the shot. You might also have a fever and muscle aches for a day or two after you get the shot.

The risk of a serious problem from the flu shot (such as a bad allergic reaction) is very small.

2. Compare your options

  Get a flu shot Don't get a flu shot
What is usually involved?
  • You get a shot in your arm.
  • You get the shot at your doctor's office, workplace, health clinic, drugstore or grocery store, or any other place that offers it.
  • You can take steps to prevent the flu: Wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your face.
What are the benefits?
  • It may keep you from getting the flu.
  • If you do get the flu, your symptoms may be milder and you may be less likely to get other health problems from the flu.
  • You're less likely to spread the flu to others.
  • You avoid the side effects of the flu shot.
  • You don't have to pay for a flu shot or take the time to get one.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • You might have:
    • Soreness, redness, and swelling where you got the shot.
    • A fever and muscle aches for a day or two.
    • An allergic reaction, but this is rare.
  • You are more likely to get the flu.
  • If you do get the flu, you may:
    • Miss several days of work or school.
    • Spend time and money on doctor visits and on over-the-counter medicines.
    • Get other health problems from the flu that may need to be treated in a hospital.

Personal stories

Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.

If you need more information, see the topics:

Personal stories about getting a flu shot

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I am in very good health for my age. Still, I get a flu shot every fall. Why take chances? I've seen too many friends end up in the hospital because they didn't take the flu seriously. I urge my kids to get it too, because you never know how nasty this year's flu strain might be."

— Bert, age 68

"I am terribly allergic to eggs, so I can't take the flu shot. Instead, I take antiviral medicine to help protect me from the flu. I have a family to support, including my dad who has kidney disease. So the last thing I need is to get the flu and bring it into the house."

— Starla, age 42

"My grandmother is in a nursing home, and I visit her every couple of weeks. I wouldn't want to risk giving her the flu, so I'm going to get a flu shot."

— Betsy, age 17

"At my age, I don't see any reason to get a flu shot. I'm very strong, and I hardly ever get sick. I'm not worried about getting the flu."

— Quincy, age 25

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to get a flu shot

Reasons not to get a flu shot

I'll do whatever I can to avoid getting the flu.

I'm not worried about getting the flu.

More important
Equally important
More important

I can't afford to get sick and miss work or school.

I'm not worried about getting sick and missing work or school.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm a big believer in vaccines.

I don't trust vaccines.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm worried about getting other serious health problems from the flu.

I'm more worried about side effects from the shot.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Getting a flu shot

NOT getting a flu shot

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. Can you get the flu from a flu shot?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. The viruses in a flu shot are dead, so you can't get the flu from a flu shot.

2. Is the flu shot safe for everyone?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. Some people shouldn't get a flu shot without talking to their doctor first. These include people who are allergic to eggs and those who have had a bad reaction to the flu vaccine in the past.

3. Should you get a flu shot if you have a long-term (chronic) disease, such as diabetes or heart disease, or a weak immune system?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. It's important that people with chronic diseases or a weak immune system get a flu shot, because they are at high risk for other health problems from the flu.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.

3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.

Credits
Author Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document some Information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

Last Updated: July 31, 2008

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