The Flu Vaccine

Brace yourselves: Flu season is coming, which typically lasts from October to April. So, it seems like the right time to round up a list of common misconceptions and questions about the flu vaccine and some information to set folks straight.

Can a flu shot give you the flu? No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The flu shot is made with flu vaccine viruses that have been inactivated (killed), and only broken up parts of the inactive virus are included in the vaccine. However, it typically takes 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective. During those two weeks, it is still possible for an individual to get the flu or another respiratory virus.

Are the side effects of the flu vaccine worse than the flu? No. Absolutely not! The flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes.

Flu season hasn’t really hit yet, so I should wait until later in the year or when people around me start coming down with the flu? The best time to get a shot is before the season actually starts because, again, it takes 2 weeks for the body’s immune system to fully protect itself against the flu. Flu season can start as early as October but generally peaks in January or February and can last until May. It’s a long season, which means those who haven’t received a flu shot are at increased risk for contracting the flu. Get vaccinated before it starts spreading.

If I get the flu, can’t I just be treated with antibiotics? Influenza is a virus. Antibiotics fight bacteria (anti = “against”; biotics = “of life,” referring to living bacteria). All the antibiotics in the world won’t help you fight off a flu infection.

Can I protect myself from the flu by eating right and washing my hands regularly? A good diet and good hygiene alone cannot prevent the flu. Influenza is an airborne virus, so although hand-washing is important and can reduce your risk of becoming ill from germs in general, hand washing won’t guarantee you don’t catch the flu. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is also important, and certainly being healthy makes it easier for your immune system to fight off new infections. But simply eating well cannot miraculously prevent you from being exposed to the flu virus.

Is it too late to get vaccinated after Thanksgiving (or the end of November)? No. Getting a flu shot at any time during flu season will reduce your risk of getting the flu. Flu season continues well into January and February, not really petering out until late March or April, and flu vaccines tend to be available throughout that time. It’s basically never too late to get the flu shot until flu season is finally over.

Is the flu vaccine only necessary for the very young or the very old? The flu vaccine is for anyone who does not want to be sick with the flu or inadvertently spread the virus to others. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends annual immunization for all people aged 6 months and older.

Is getting sick from that flu really that serious? According to CDC, since 2012, flu-related deaths are estimated to have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000 each year. Flu symptoms, (including fever, headaches, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, extreme tiredness and body aches), can disrupt your work, school and social life for up to 2 weeks.

Do I really need a flu vaccine every year? Yes, every year! Since the body’s immune response to a flu vaccine declines over time, a yearly vaccine is the best protection. And, because flu viruses are always changing, the vaccination formulations are reviewed each year and revised to keep up with changing flu viruses.

What about people who get a seasonal flu vaccine and still get sick with flu symptoms? There are several reasons why someone might get flu symptoms, even after they have been vaccinated against flu. The CDC states that the most common reason for this is being exposed to the influenza virus before getting vaccinated or during the 2 week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.

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