Top Facts About the Flu Vaccine
Flu season has arrived again and it’s time to get your annual flu vaccine. It is more important than ever before to protect yourself and your patients from the flu, especially while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The first and most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu-related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. The CDC also recommends everyday preventive actions (like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing) to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses, like flu.
A flu vaccine is the first and best way to reduce your chances of getting the flu and spreading it to others. CDC recommends that everyone six months of age and older receive a flu vaccine every year.
Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. Flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics, but there are some key differences between the two. While more is learned every day, there is still a lot that is unknown about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it. Check out https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm for more information about the similarities and differences between Flu and COVID-19.
Q: Are there any changes to the 2020-2021 Northern Hemisphere vaccines from what was included in this season’s 2019-2020 US flu vaccines?
A: Yes, this season’s flu vaccines were updated to better match viruses expected to be circulating in the United States.
Q: If coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is spreading in my community, should I still go out to get a flu vaccine?
A: Yes. Getting a flu vaccine is an essential part of protecting your health and your family’s health this season. To protect your health when getting a flu vaccine, follow CDC’s recommendations for running essential errands and doctor visits. Continue to take everyday preventive actions.
Q: How can I safely get a flu vaccine if COVID-19 is spreading in my community?
A: When going to get a flu vaccine, practice everyday preventive actions and follow CDC recommendations for running essential errands. Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or health department if they are following CDC’s vaccination pandemic guidance. Any vaccination location following CDC’s guidance should be a safe place for you to get a flu vaccine.
Q: I don’t have a primary care provider, where can I get a flu vaccine?
A: If you don’t have a doctor that you regularly see, flu vaccines are also available at locations including health departments and pharmacies. You can use https://vaccinefinder.org/ to find where flu vaccines are available near you.
Q: What is CDC’s position on mandating flu vaccination for health care workers?
A: The findings of a CDC review of related published literature indicate that influenza vaccination of health care personnel can enhance patient safety. CDC does not issue any requirements or mandates for state agencies, health systems, or health care workers regarding infection control practices, including influenza vaccination or the use of masks. Some employers require certain immunizations. Hospitals, for example, may require some staff to get a flu vaccine or hepatitis B vaccine or take other precautions such as the use of masks.
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Trivalent vaccines are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. Quadrivalent vaccines protect against four viruses; the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine as well as an additional B virus.
Flu vaccines CANNOT cause flu. Flu vaccines are made with either killed or weakened viruses. While the nasal spray flu vaccine does contain a live virus, the viruses are changed so that they cannot give you the flu.
Flu vaccines are safe. Flu vaccines have a good safety record. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years, and there has been extensive research supporting the safety of flu vaccines. Serious problems from a flu vaccine are very rare. The most common side effect that a person is likely to experience is soreness where the injection was given. This is generally mild and usually goes away after a day or two.
Do flu vaccines cause any side effects?
Like any medical product, vaccines can cause side effects. Side effects of the flu vaccine are generally mild and go away on their own within a few days.
Common side effects from the flu shot include:
- Soreness, redness, and/or swelling from the shot
- Muscle aches
- The flu shot, like other injections, can occasionally cause fainting
Some studies have found a possible small association of injectable flu vaccine with Guillain-Barré syndrome (BGS). Overall, these studies estimated the risk for GBS after vaccination as fewer than 1 or 2 cases of GBS per one million people vaccinated. Other studies have not found any association. GBS also, rarely, occurs after flu illness. Even though GBS following flu illness is rare, GBS is more common following flu illness than following flu vaccination. GBS has not been associated with the nasal spray vaccine.
People who can get the flu shot:
- Different flu shots are approved for people of different ages. Everyone should get a vaccine that is appropriate for their age.
- There are inactivated influenza vaccines (IIV) that are approved for people as young as six months of age.
- Some vaccines are only approved for adults. For example, the recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV) is approved for people aged 18 years and older, and the adjuvanted and high-dose inactivated vaccines are approved for people aged 65 years and older.
- Pregnant women and people with certain chronic health conditions can get a flu shot.
- Most people with an egg allergy can get a flu shot. People with egg allergies can receive any licensed, recommended age-appropriate influenza vaccine (IIV, RIV4, or LAIV4) that is otherwise appropriate. People who have a history of severe egg allergy (those who have had any symptom other than hives after exposure to egg) should be vaccinated in a medical setting, supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions. Two completely egg-free (ovalbumin-free) flu vaccine options are available: quadrivalent recombinant vaccine and quadrivalent cell-based vaccine.
People who SHOULD NOT get the flu shot:
- Children younger than six months of age are too young to get a flu shot.
- People with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients.
People who should talk to their healthcare provider before getting a flu shot:
- If you have one of the following conditions, talk with your health care provider. He or she can help decide whether vaccination is right for you, and select the best vaccine for your situation.
- If you have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your allergy.
- Most flu shots and the nasal spray flu vaccine are manufactured using egg-based technology. Because of this, they contain a small amount of egg proteins, such as ovalbumin. However, studies that have examined the use of both the nasal spray vaccine and flu shots in egg-allergic and non-egg-allergic patients indicate that severe allergic reactions in people with egg allergies are unlikely. A recent CDC study found the rate of anaphylaxis after all vaccines is 1.31 per one million vaccine doses given.
- Persons with a history of egg allergy who have experienced only hives after exposure to egg should receive a flu vaccine. Any licensed and recommended flu vaccine (i.e., any form of IIV or RIV) that is otherwise appropriate for the recipient’s age and health status may be used.
- Persons who report having had reactions to egg involving symptoms other than hives, such as angioedema, respiratory distress, lightheadedness, or recurrent emesis; or who required epinephrine or another emergency medical intervention may similarly receive any licensed and recommended flu vaccine (i.e., any form of IIV or RIV) that is otherwise appropriate for the recipient’s age and health status. The selected vaccine should be administered in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting (including, but not necessarily limited to hospitals, clinics, health departments, and physician offices). Vaccine administration should be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic conditions.
- A previous severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccine regardless of the component suspected of being responsible for the reaction is a contraindication to future receipt of the vaccine. See https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/egg-allergies.htm for more information about egg allergies and flu vaccines.
- If you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness, also called GBS). Some people with a history of GBS should not get a flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your GBS history.
- If you are not feeling well, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.