Why you need a flu shot

October 5, 2015

A flu shot can spare you from aches, fever and chills and could even save your life. So why don't more people get flu shots? Read on to learn some of the myths surrounding the flu shot and why you should get one.

Why you need a flu shot

Can flu shots cause the flu?

Anyone can benefit from being vaccinated (and some people can opt for nasal spray instead of the needle), though small children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses need it most. Yet many people shun this annual ritual, fearing it poses a serious health threat. What's the fear? Can flu shots cause the flu?

  • No, yet surveys show that many people don't get vaccinated due to this mistaken belief.
  • A flu shot contains the flu virus. Each year, scientists identify the flu strains they believe are most likely to cause widespread illness. These strains are included in the vaccine, which is reformulated annually. But the viruses are inactivated — that is, dead (or weakened, in the case of nasal spray vaccine). In other words, they can't cause the flu. Yet they coax your immune system into producing germ-killing proteins called antibodies, which learn how to recognize and destroy the flu virus should you encounter it.

You can still get the flu after getting a flu shot

Another source of confusion: sometimes people are vaccinated and then come down with the flu a few days later.

  • The flu vaccine is up to 90 percent effective in healthy young people but offers less protection to others who are older or sicker. In other words, you can still get the flu after getting a flu shot. If you catch the bug right away, you may think that the jab in the arm made you ill. But the flu shot didn't make you sick — the timing was coincidental.
  • Also, don't be surprised if you feel a little under the weather immediately after a flu shot. It's perfectly normal to develop a low-grade fever or feel achy for a day or two.

Keep in mind

Getting a flu shot in October or November is an annual ritual for many. But what if December or January rolls around and you still haven't gotten vaccinated?

  • Get the shot anyway. The vaccine takes about two weeks to become effective, so that still gives your immune system time to rally its defenses for the height of influenza season in January and February.
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