It's easy to understand why people may think that the flu is just a really bad cold. Colds and the flu can share some of the same symptoms, such as a sore throat and runny or stuffy nose. But influenza is not your common cold; it's highly contagious and can result in serious complications, even death.58 The seasonal influenza vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older.74
For in-depth information about who should and shouldn't get vaccinated against seasonal influenza, visit cdc.gov or talk to your health care professional.
The seasonal influenza vaccine is now recommended for almost everyone, every year. In 2010, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended "universal" flu vaccination—meaning everyone 6 months and older should get it—so more people would be protected against influenza every year.60Back to top
Did you know that most flu epidemics are often spread by a school-aged child?94 And severe flu complications are most common among children younger than 2 years of age?73 These are just a couple of reasons why it's important to not only vaccinate your own children, but to also encourage other parents to get their kids vaccinated, too.
Flu seasons vary, but influenza continues to be a significant cause of vaccine-preventable death among children.94 In fact, in 2009, more than 340 children died from the swine flu (H1N1). And each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of flu complications.73
It's recommended that kids over 6 months of age get a flu shot every season. It's especially important for children under 2 years of age to get vaccinated.74
For more detailed information about protecting your children from the flu and giving kids the flu vaccine, visit cdc.gov.Back to top
The flu isn't just a nasty bug that can keep your adolescent home from school, or keep you out of work caring for them. It can be serious. Each year, the flu sends approximately 226,000 people in the United States to the hospital. Adolescents with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, are at especially high risk of flu-related complications.59
A flu vaccine is the best way to protect your adolescent (and you, your family, and other children) against this preventable disease and to keep it from spreading. The CDC recommends that your adolescent get a flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available.51Back to top
While most people recover from the flu within a few days or weeks time, it can have more serious consequences than just a few missed workdays.51 The flu can lead to pneumonia, bronchitis, and serious complications including death.51,58
Pregnant women and adults 50 years of age and older are at high risk of having flu complications, so the CDC says it's especially important for them to get the flu shot every year.74
It's also important that people who live with or care for high-risk individuals get vaccinated. This includes health care workers and people in the same household as those who are at higher risk for developing flu-related complications. People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age should also get the flu vaccine, because these children are too young to be vaccinated themselves.74Back to top
Each year, the flu sends approximately 226,000 people in the United States to the hospital. While it can be deadly at any age, it is most deadly among adults 65 years of age and older.59 And as seniors age, their immune system weakens, making them more susceptible to the flu. It's no surprise that 90% of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older.95
But it's especially important that seniors living in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities get their seasonal influenza vaccine.74
There is a high-dose version of the flu shot for people 65 years of age and older. This high-dose flu shot is designed to give seniors higher anti-body levels against seasonal influenza.96 You can talk to your health care provider about which flu shot is better for you.
What are the side effects and reactions that could occur with the flu shot? Fortunately, the risk of the flu vaccine causing any serious complications is very small.148 Here's more information that may ease your concerns about influenza vaccine side effects.
A lot of people worry about not feeling well after the flu shot and coming down with the flu. But the truth is, the virus that is used to create the seasonal influenza vaccine isn't alive. The virus is killed, so it can't give you the flu.34
The nasal spray flu vaccine contains live, but weakened flu virus.34
Of course there's a chance of side effects like with any medical treatment. But almost everyone who gets the flu shot has no serious problems from it. Your chances of having a severe reaction to the flu shot are very low.148
Here are the side effects that could occur from the flu shot:
These mild side effects usually appear shortly after getting the injection and last 1 or 2 days.
Here are the side effects that could occur from the nasal spray:
Again, serious flu vaccine side effects, like a life-threatening allergic reaction, are extremely rare. If they do happen, they usually happen between a few minutes to a few hours after receiving the vaccination.34
The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that pregnant women get the flu shot (but not the nasal spray vaccine) at any stage of their pregnancy. According to the CDC, the flu vaccine is a safe way for a pregnant woman to protect herself and her unborn child from the flu and any related complications. Flu shots have been given to millions of moms-to-be over many years, and they have not been shown to harm them or their babies.97
This is because of the changes that happen to your immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy. Pregnant women also have a greater chance of serious problems for their babies, including premature delivery, if they get sick.97 If you are pregnant and have questions about getting the flu shot, speak to your health care provider.
The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age. But if you or your children fall into any of the following categories, speak to a health care professional before getting flu vaccine:74
If you wish to receive the nasal spray flu vaccine, speak to a health care professional first if you or your children fall into any of the following categories:
Fortunately, there's some flexibility when it comes to when to get the flu shot and where you can get vaccinated.
Flu shots are widely available in most United States communities. Check with your health care professional's office, within local retail pharmacies, public health clinics, supermarkets, schools, senior centers, and other places that offer the flu vaccine this season.149 Here is a flu shot finder that will help you find flu vaccine locations near you.
Seasonal flu vaccination usually begins as soon as the new season's vaccine is available. Because the timing of flu season can vary, vaccination should continue throughout the entire flu season.74 Flu season usually peaks in February or later, but outbreaks can happen as early as October.98
If you have health insurance, the cost of a flu vaccine may be covered. If not, you may be able to get free or low-cost flu vaccine at work, a local clinic, through Medicare, or your local government. Check with your employer and your state's health department to see if they have any special flu immunization programs available.
You may also be eligible for free vaccination under the Vaccines for Children program. Learn more at the CDC Vaccines for Children website.
Wondering what is in the flu shot or how the flu vaccine is made every year? Here you can learn about the flu vaccine inside and out.
Every year, scientists from around the globe set out to determine which 3 flu strains will be the most common in the flu season to come. Then they create the flu vaccine to protect against these 3 strains of flu. Within 2 weeks after you get your flu vaccine, your body develops antibodies that will help protect you against infection from these strains of flu virus.74
There are 2 kinds of influenza vaccines, there are various types of inactivated vaccines:
Multidose influenza vaccines have trace amounts of thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative.57 This is because the vials contain more than 1 dose of the vaccine. The preservative is there to prevent bacterial growth when the multidose vial is re-injected for the next doses.99
While many parents worry about thimerosal and the mercury that's in it, the reality is this: the small amount of mercury in the flu shot is actually much lower than the amount of mercury a breast-fed infant has every day.100
But knowing some parents are still concerned, companies also offer a no-preservative version of the flu vaccine, which doesn't contain thimerosal.8
Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative. For over 50 years, it was used in multidose vaccines in small amounts to prevent them from being contaminated by bacteria. The mercury that was used (ethylmercury) is different from the environmental mercury (methylmercury) that people are exposed to when they eat some types of fish and shellfish. Unlike the kind of mercury that can make its way into the food chain, the mercury found in some vaccines is broken down and passed from the body much more quickly.8
There has been a lot of talk about whether some vaccines cause autism, but no link has been found.42 In fact, thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines 10 years ago, yet more children are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) than ever before.8,42 This alone could be seen as evidence that thimerosal in vaccines does not cause autism.