The Flu Vaccine
- What is the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is a type of vaccination administered annually to help protect the recipient from contracting and spreading the flu. The flu vaccine protects against three influenza virus strains that research indicates will be circulating during the upcoming flu season. There are two types of vaccines: an inactivated vaccine that contains the killed virus and can be administered as a “shot” with a needle, or a nasal spray containing a live, weakened flu virus.
- Why should I get the flu vaccine?
An annual flu vaccination can help prevent the spread of influenza between individuals and may help save the lives of those most at risk for severe and fatal complications from the flu. For this reason, the flu vaccine remains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) top recommendation for influenza prevention for everyone 6 months of age and older.
- Is the flu vaccine safe?
Yes. Flu vaccines have been used for more than 50 years with very good safety records. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continuously monitor for unexpected adverse reactions related to the vaccine.
- What are the side effects of the flu vaccine?
Most people who get the flu shot have no reaction. Up to 25 percent may have some redness and slight swelling at the site of injection. The risk of a severe allergic reaction in those who are vaccinated is less than one in four million.
- Can you get the flu from the flu vaccine?
This is impossible. The flu vaccine does not actually carry a live virus; it contains inactivated or weakened organisms. Vaccine manufacturers grow the flu virus in eggs, then cleanse and chemically treat the virus to deactivate it.
- How effective is the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is safe and effective at preventing the spread of influenza, and according to the CDC, an annual vaccine is the first and most important step in protection against the flu.
Occasionally, the flu season can be more severe when a major circulating strain of influenza does not match any of the strains selected by world health organizations for the vaccine formulations. This is called a vaccine mismatch. Even in this case, the vaccine still offers some protection by making instances of the flu less severe.
- Who should get vaccinated against the flu? Do healthy people need a flu vaccine?
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated against the flu every year. This recommendation is the same even during years when the vaccine composition (the viruses the vaccine protects against) remains unchanged from the previous season.
Infants younger than 6 months old are too young to be vaccinated. You can protect them by getting yourself, other children and family members, and close contacts vaccinated. This will help prevent spreading the virus to infants.
Healthy people need to also get vaccinated every year to protect themselves and those most at risk from severe and fatal complications. During the 2010-2011 flu season, roughly half of the kids who died from influenza had healthy medical histories.
- Should pregnant women get the flu vaccine?
Yes. The CDC recommends the flu shot for pregnant women as the safest and most important method for protecting a mother and her unborn child from the flu. Pregnant women are at risk for developing serious complications from the flu, which may include premature delivery and miscarriage. Research has found that not only do pregnant women who are vaccinated get the flu less often than pregnant women who are not vaccinated, but babies born to mothers who were vaccinated during pregnancy also get the flu less often.
The flu vaccine has been given to millions of pregnant women over many years and has not been shown to harm expectant mothers or their children.
- Do children need to receive a flu vaccine?
Yes. Children have the highest chance of getting sick from the flu and often spread the germs throughout their communities. During bad flu seasons, about 30 percent of school-aged children get sick. Even though vaccines help cut down on flu-related missed school days by 47 to 56 percent, not enough children are vaccinated annually against the disease. As a result, children sick with the flu miss about 38 million school days every year.
Influenza is also one of the leading causes of infectious disease hospitalizations among young children. Approximately 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized due to the flu each year — that’s enough children to fill 870 average American classrooms. Infants and toddlers are hospitalized as a result of influenza at rates similar to elderly people and at higher rates than people of all other ages.
In addition, on average, approximately 100 children die in the United States from the flu and its complications every year.
- Do I need to get a flu vaccination every year?
Yes. The vaccine needs to be given every year. Because flu viruses are constantly changing, flu vaccines may be updated from one season to the next to protect against the most recent and most commonly circulating viruses. In addition, a person’s immune protection from the vaccine declines over time; therefore, annual vaccination is needed for optimal protection.
- When is the best time to get vaccinated?
It is recommended that you get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available in your community. The virus tends to spread from October to May, with most cases occurring in January or later. However, vaccinations can be given at any time during the flu season; getting a vaccination later in the season (December through March) can still help protect you from the flu.
- Where can I get a flu vaccine?
Flu vaccines are readily available in a wide variety of locations, including doctors’ offices, schools, workplaces, supermarkets, pharmacies, health departments and community centers. To find a flu clinic near you use our flu clinic locator.
- Where can I learn more about flu vaccine recommendations?
To learn more about flu vaccine recommendations, visit the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/flu. You can learn more about the flu and what you can do to help stop its spread by further exploring our Resources.