Sep 02, 2021

Should You Get the Flu Shot? Exploring Your Most Common Questions

The next flu season is once again approaching. While the percentage of children and adults who get the flu shot is increasing each year, the CDC reports that the percentage of those who are getting vaccinated in each group is still less than 50% than those who are not. 

Along with the guidance of your healthcare provider, only you can decide if it would be best for you to get the flu shot or not. However, we have put together this guide to everything you need to know about the flu shot, while answering your most common questions to help you determine if getting the flu shot would be right for you. 

What Is the Flu?

The flu, also known as Influenza, is a common, contagious and potentially deadly viral infection. There are four main types of flu viruses: A, B, C, and D. However, Flu A and Flu B are the types of viruses that are regularly found in the United States and cause seasonal epidemics of disease (flu season) every year. 

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of the Flu?

The flu can at times be a very mild to moderate illness, or can result in much more serious and severe consequences, especially when it is not managed or treated properly. It usually comes on suddenly, and those who get it will typically experience all or some of the below symptoms:

  • fever/chills (not everyone will get a fever)

  • sore throat

  • runny or stuffy nose

  • cough

  • muscle or body aches

  • headaches

  • fatigue 

  • vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)

Who Can Get the Vaccine?

Most people aged 6 months and over are encouraged to get the flu vaccine every year, with few exceptions. The flu shot is especially crucial for those who are at higher risk of developing severe complications from the flu. Please visit the CDC's website for more information on who is advised and not advised to get the flu vaccine. We will also look more closely at this question later in the article.

What Are the Most Common Flu Vaccine Side Effects? 

Side effects of the flu vaccine can vary from person to person, but most who get the flu vaccine report soreness, swelling, and/or discoloration at the injection site. Other common side effects of the flu shot include:

  • headaches

  • fever

  • nausea

  • muscle aches

  • low-grade fever (More so in children, as a response of the immune system)

Is It Normal to Have a Sore Arm After a Flu Shot?

Yes! Discomfort or soreness in the arm is the most commonly reported side effect. Your body recognizes the injection as foreign and therefore produces an immune response which can lead to soreness or swelling near the injection site.

Can You Get the Flu from the Flu Shot? 

No, flu vaccines cannot cause you to contract the flu because they are made with either inactive viruses, or with only a single protein from the flu virus. However, getting the shot can trigger an immune response in your body, which can result in mild symptoms. 

Do Seniors React Differently to Flu Shots? 

As we get older, our immune systems become weaker and therefore, the flu vaccine may not work as effectively in seniors. Those over the age of 65 typically create fewer antibodies in response to vaccination. If they are exposed to the virus, they may have a higher chance of becoming sick. In response, vaccine manufacturers have developed a stronger shot designed to work more effectively for seniors. 

The High Dose and Adjuvanted flu vaccines are both approved for those 65 and older. Side effects include:

  • Pain, redness, and/or swelling at the injection site

  • Headache

  • Muscle ache

  • Malaise

Side effects usually clear up in 1-2 days. 

What Are Rare Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine? 

There are some rare cases of serious side effects as a result of the flu vaccine. These side effects include:

When Should I See a Doctor for Flu Shot Reactions? 

If you experience any of the above rare side effects or are experiencing any other life-threatening emergency, you should call 911 immediately. 

Most of the common symptoms typically go away within two days. If your symptoms last longer than two days or get worse, call your doctor right away. 

Who Should Not Get the Flu Shot?

The CDC advises that the following individuals should not get the flu shot:

  • Children younger than 6 months

  • Those with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu shot or to any ingredient(s) in the vaccine

Speak to your physician before getting the shot if you:

  • Have had a severe allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine

  • Have a history of GBS

  • Are currently sick

Do I Need to Get the Flu Shot Every Year?

If you choose to get the flu shot, you should get it every year. There are two main reasons why:

  • The body's immune response to the flu decreases over time. By getting the vaccine every year, you help your body have continued protection.

  • Since flu viruses are continuously changing, the viruses that may be prevalent in one flu season may not necessarily be as prevalent the next season. The only way to have optimal protection against that season’s flu virus is to get the flu vaccine that season.

Every year, the vaccine is updated to protect against the viruses that are most likely to circulate in the upcoming flu season. 

What are the Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction to a Flu Shot?

There is a chance you could have an allergic reaction to the flu shot or to the ingredients in the vaccine. These symptoms usually occur within a few hours of getting the vaccine and include:

  • hives

  • swelling around the eyes and lips 

  • wheezing

  • paleness

  • trouble breathing

  • fast heart rate

  • dizziness

  • weakness

If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away. If they're severe, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Which Flu Vaccine Is Safe for People with Allergies?

Most flu shots and the nasal spray flu vaccine are made using egg-based technology. Therefore, they contain a small amount of egg protein. The CDC completed a study using the flu shot and nasal vaccine on those with and without an egg allergy. They found that the rate of an anaphylactic reaction is 1.31 per one million vaccine doses given.

People who've had a severe allergic reaction to eggs are advised to get the shot in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting where they can be monitored by a healthcare professional. 

Two vaccines authorized for use for the 2020-2021 flu season are manufactured without the use of eggs and are considered egg-free:

It is essential to speak with your doctor if you have a history of allergic reaction to the flu shot or its ingredients before getting the vaccine. 

What Remedies and Treatments May Help Relieve Common Flu Shot Reactions? 

Since soreness and swelling at the injection site are the most common reactions, we recommend these remedies to help relieve them:

  • Move your arm after the shot. This helps spread the vaccine away from the injection site. As a result, moving your arm post shot will decrease the pain and discomfort more efficiently. 

  • Move your body. Light to moderate exercise will boost your immune system for several hours after. A boosted immune system can promote blood circulation, directing the medication to disperse throughout muscle tissue.

  • Use a cool compress to reduce inflammation and help numb the nerves in the skin. Get the cold compress on the injection site as soon as you feel any muscle soreness. 

  • Try a pain reliever. If pain continues, an over-the-counter pain reliever may provide some relief. The pain should subside after a few days, but if it's still lingering, check in with your doctor. 

Are There Any Preventive Measures You Can Take Against Flu Shot Side Effects?

There are a couple of things you can do to reduce or prevent common side effects of the flu vaccine!

  • Avoid tensing your muscles while getting the shot. This is probably easier said than done, especially if you don't like needles. However, try taking long, deep breaths to clear your mind before you receive the shot. Looking away while the vaccine is being given can also help you relax your arm muscles. 

  • Take ibuprofen before getting the shot to ease discomfort. 

  • Drink plenty of water before (and after!) getting the flu vaccine. A hydrated body can help your muscles recover and move the medicine through your body faster. 

  • Figure out in which arm you will be getting the injection. Since you move your dominant arm more, the vaccine will move into your muscles quicker and away from the injection site. However, you may notice soreness when you type, write, reach, lift, etc. If you get the flu shot injection in your non-dominant arm, you may not even notice any soreness since you don't use your non-dominant arm as much. On the flip side, not using your arm can cause the vaccine to hang out longer at the injection site which can cause more discomfort.  

Every fall and winter, millions of people get the flu. Receiving the flu vaccine prevents you and your family from developing and spreading the flu.

There are many benefits to the flu shot, as well as some risks. If you have any other questions or concerns, we encourage you to speak with your doctor.

Many health plans will cover most or all of the costs of the flu shot. CareCard, a discount card for prescriptions, is passionate about helping make your prescription and vaccine payments more affordable, saving members up to 85% on prescription drugs and medications. Learn how CareCard can help make your medication payments more manageable.

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