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Expert Answers To Common Questions About The Flu Shot

As summer turn into autumn, flu season is right around corner. It is important for you to stay up to date on information about the flu. These frequently asked questions, answered by our experts, will help clear up some of the confusion about the flu shot.

I’m pregnant. Should I get the flu shot?

Absolutely!  The flu shot is indicated for all pregnant women to protect both mother and child from flu which as pregnant women and newborns are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of influenza.

I think I have a cold. Is it safe to get a flu shot? 

It is safe and still advisable for you to get the flu shot. 

I’ve heard you can get the flu from the vaccine. Is this true?

The flu shot cannot cause disease. If a person is feeling poorly after getting the shot it may be because they have already been exposed to the flu virus. It takes up to two weeks before the shot can become completely effective.

How old does my child have to be to get the flu shot? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children six months and older get immunized. Flu can be especially dangerous for kids because their immune systems aren’t fully developed yet. Getting immunized against the flu is the most important thing you can do to protect your child. If there is a baby at home, family members must get immunized against the flu and other seasonal illness to protect the baby.

If I get the flu shot, can I still get the flu?

Getting the flu shot remains the single most effective measure a person can take to prevent getting the flu. And if you do get the flu, the fact that you have been vaccinated, increases your chance of having a milder case of the flu.

I’ve heard there is a nasal mist I can take rather than getting a shot – is this recommended? 

There is a nasal mist available, but not everyone should take it. See this post to find out who can get the nasal mist.

Is it normal to feel sore or achy after getting the flu shot?

People may experience mild symptoms in reaction to the vaccine. Those symptoms can include headaches, body aches and a low-grade fever, and should clear up within a couple of days.

I have an egg allergy. Is it safe for me to get the flu shot?

The CDC recommends everyone over the age of six months old to get flu vaccines and that includes people with egg allergies. Previously there had been a lot of contraindications (about being vaccinated with egg allergies) but with changes in manufacturing practices, we are really seeing the vaccine be safe for those with allergies. People who get mild hives or stomachaches from eating eggs can still go to any local source for flu vaccines; people who have respiratory issues can go to their primary-care provider for their immunization. They can be monitored at the provider’s office for 30 minutes to see if there are any reactions.

Who should/shouldn’t get the flu vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone six months and older get immunized. The flu shot is inadvisable for babies younger than 6 months and people who have a life-threatening allergy to a prior flu shot or a component of the flu shot.     

When should I get the flu shot? Is it too early/late? 

Getting vaccinated before flu activity begins helps protect you once flu season starts in your community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body’s immune response to fully respond and for you to be protected, so make plans to get vaccinated. CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. However, getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial. CDC recommends ongoing flu vaccination as long as influenza viruses are circulating, even into January or later. Children aged 6 months through 8 years old who need two doses of vaccine should get the first dose as soon after vaccine is available to allow time to get the second dose before the start of flu season. The two doses should be given at least 4 weeks apart.

I got the flu shot last year. Do I need it again?

Even though you got a flu shot last year, it is important to get one this year as well because the flu virus changes every year.

It’s not that big of a deal if I get the flu, is it?

The flu is not pleasant, but most people survive it. That said, the reason we are so vigilant about preventing the flu is that the flu can be deadly. While those who are older than 65, or younger than 5, are at the greatest risk, the flu can and does kill people of all ages. We don’t immunize patients to prevent the unpleasant, transient illness – we immunize patients to try to prevent deaths.   

Do flu shots contain dangerous chemicals, like mercury?

Great question. Yes and no! If your flu vaccine comes in a multi-dose vial (a vial used for multiple patient injections) it does contain thimerosal, which contains mercury.
If your flu vaccine is either a nasal flu spray or a single dose vial or pre-filled syringe, it likely does not contain thimerosol.  

Thimerosol is a mercury-based preservative that prevents the growth of things like bacteria or fungus in the vaccine.  Interestingly, it contains ethylmercury which is removed from the body much more rapidly than methylmercury (the type of mercury found in fish).   

If I get the flu, can’t I just take antibiotics?

Unfortunately, no. Antibiotics do not work on influenza. There are antiviral medications that can help reduce symptoms and protect from harmful outcomes if taken early enough, but we do not have a cure for influenza.

Flu shots are available at all Banner Urgent Care locations. You can reserve your spot online.

Information in this post provided by: Joan Ivaska, senior director of Banner Health’s Infection Prevention; LeeAnne Denny, MD, Banner - University Medical Center Phoenix Family Medicine Clinic; Ruben Espinoza, MD, Banner Health Clinic specializing in Pediatrics located on South Country Club Drive.

This post has been updated. It was originally published in October 2018.

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