Should You Get the Flu Vaccine?

The flu vaccine is an important protective measure in preventing serious outcomes from flu infection but it is not recommended for everyone.

In 2009-2010, the H1N1 flu (swine flu) outbreak brought public awareness to the potential seriousness of the flu virus. During the pandemic, there were 12,469 deaths in the United States attributable to H1N1 infection. Worldwide, it is estimated that between 151,700 and 575,400 people died from H1N1 infection. According to the CDC, the seasonal flu kills between 3,000 to 49,000 people a year in the United States.

Why Get the Flu Vaccine?

Although the H1N1 pandemic is over, the flu virus continues to cause a high number of hospitalizations for children each year. The flu vaccine is an important protective measure in preventing serious outcomes from flu infection. The CDC recommends the quadrivalent flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. It protects against two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B viruses. The nasal spray (live attenuated) vaccine may be given to individuals between 2 to 49 years of age, preferably to healthy children 2 to 8 years of age. There is also a shot (inactivated virus) that is approved starting at 6 months of age.

The flu vaccine is not recommended in the following individuals:

  • Children younger than 6 months
  • People with serious, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine (such as gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients)
  • People witha severe allergy to eggs can instead receive the recombinant flu vaccine if they are 18 years and older. If they are under 18, they should get the regular flu shot (IIV) given by a doctor with experience in management of severe allergic conditions. People who have had a mild reaction to eggs (i.e., hives) may receive the regular flu vaccine but should be monitored closely.

For all shots, I prefer the versions with no added mercury as a preservative (the ones that come in single dose vials) – but this is a smaller issue than the risks from the flu itself. Infants under 6 months should not receive flu shots, but other adults and older children in their home should get vaccinated to prevent infection in these young babies. Unfortunately, each year, we see far too many babies hospitalized with flu after being exposure to an adult or sibling with the flu.

Other Ways to Prevent the Flu

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, families can take other preventative steps to stop the spread of the virus, including the following:

  1. Keeping babies away from people with fevers.
  2. Keeping kids and adults with fevers home from school and work until the fever has been gone for 24 hours.
  3. Using hand sanitizers.
  4. Using good sense when it comes to spending time in public places, especially if you’re not feeling good.
Published on: September 10, 2009
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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