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Getting a Flu Vaccine: Benefits and Side Effects

By Jason Bruce, M.D.

​Each year from October through February, we go through a lovely time of year called flu season. Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory virus that can cause symptoms for three to 14 days and in extreme cases, lead to hospitalization or death.

Flu Symptoms

Fortunately, the flu vaccine (flu shot) has been shown to significantly reduce the chance of contracting the flu. There are many types of vaccines to accommodate varying factors, such as age and immune system strength, but most patients will only ​hear about the shot.

Getting a Flu Shot

The flu vaccination is recommended to help keep you and your family healthy from influenza. Complications from the vaccine are rare and include allergic reactions such as swelling in the face, difficulty breathing or hives. Seek medical attention immediately if these issues occur.

Individuals at a higher risk of developing complications include:

  • Young children under 5, and especially those under 2 years
  • Adults older than 65
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People who have chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes
  • People who are very obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher

Benefits of Flu Shots

  • Individuals are 60% less likely to get the flu during the flu season that the vaccine is administered
  • If an individual does contract the virus, the vaccine may make the illness milder
  • Reduced risk of contracting the virus and passing it on to someone with a weakened immune system

Who Should Get a Flu Shot?

Healthy individuals, ages 6 months and older. Patients with allergies to vaccine ingredients, particularly eggs, and a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome should talk to a doctor before receiving a flu shot.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recom​mends everyone 6 months and older receive a vaccination in early fall or as soon as it is available.
  • Vaccination throughout the flu season, even in January or later, is still beneficial.
  • The flu shot cannot cause flu illness. Most common side effects are soreness and tenderness where the shot was given.

Tips to Prevent Influenza (Flu) in Children

Flu Shot Side Effects

Mild side effects generally last one to two days and may include:

  • Redness, soreness and swelling at the injection site
  • Low grade fever
  • Body aches

If patients experience side effects such as swelling in the face, difficulty breathing or hives, this may be the sign of an allergic reaction and they should seek medical attention immediately.