Who Should Get a Flu Shot?

Flu shots can help prevent flu, and make the symptoms less severe if you should catch it. Unless you fall into a few exceptional groups of people, you can benefit from one.

Senior woman prepares to receive flu shot

The flu shot can help guard against influenza and its serious side effects.

Photo: © SDI Productions | Getty Images

Everyone can benefit from getting a flu shot, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend vaccinating everyone six months of age and older. For people age 65 and older, Medicare covers annual flu shots, including the high-dose version. Many health insurance plans also cover flu shots with no co-pay.

Most people have little or no reaction to the flu shot. A few people may develop swelling or soreness at the injection site, and a smaller number of people may experience a day or two of headache and mild fever. People who don’t like getting shots have a second option in an influenza vaccine called FluMist, which is administered as a nasal spray. This vaccine is made with a live but weakened virus. It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only for healthy people between the ages of two and 49. However, because FluMist has been less effective than traditional flu shots over the past several flu seasons, the CDC recommends against FluMist in both adults and children.

The benefits of vaccination have been demonstrated over and over again. One study found that getting the seasonal flu vaccine cut flu-related hospitalizations among older adults by nearly two-thirds. Even if the flu shot doesn’t prevent the flu in everyone, it can prevent serious side effects from flu. It also lessens the severity of pneumonia if this occurs after flu. Another study found that babies born to women who get a flu shot during pregnancy are less likely to be underweight when born, and have fewer respiratory illnesses during flu season.

In the past, people with an allergy to eggs were advised against getting a flu shot, because the flu vaccine is grown in chicken eggs. In 2017, the CDC advised that people with egg allergy be given age-appropriate inactivated flu vaccine or recombinant (egg-free) flu vaccine. If you have had an allergic reaction to eggs that was more severe than hives, you should get the shot at your doctor’s office or another location where you can be supervised by a health-care provider. You also can opt for Flublok, which does not use chicken eggs in its manufacturing process and is approved for use in adults age 18 and older.

Who Should Not Get a Flu Shot?

Influenza vaccinations are helpful for most people, but some people should avoid getting them. These include:

  • Infants younger than six months.
  • Anyone with an acute illness and fever. Wait until you’re feeling better before getting vaccinated.
  • People who have ever had Guillain-Barre syndrome (a rare disorder of the nervous system). These individuals should talk to their doctor about the flu shot. Some people who have this condition should not get a flu shot.

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