Nobody wants to get the flu, but many people also have concerns about the safety and efficacy of the flu vaccine. You might have heard people say that the only time they have caught the flu is after getting a shot or that vaccines can cause autism or auto-immune disorders.

The flu vaccine is one of the best ways to prevent contracting the flu each year, particularly combined with good hygiene practices, for example, hand washing. While most healthy adults and older children have no problem recovering from the flu, it is often recommended that they get vaccinated, both to avoid the inconvenience of being sick and to help stop the spread of the flu virus to more vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and young infants.

Every year the flu vaccine is formulated to be effective against the strains that epidemiologists believe will be most prevalent during the coming year. Of course, there is always a chance that a new strain will unexpectedly become prominent, so that there is no guarantee that the vaccine that you receive in any given year will protect you from all strains of flu that circulate in your area.

If you are concerned about thimerosol, you can request a thimerosol free vaccine. You can also get a nasal mist version of the flu shot if you have an objection to needles.

Per the Center for Disease Control, the following people are highly advised to get vaccinated for the flu every year.

  • Pregnant women
  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • People 50 years of age and older
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
    • Health care workers
    • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
    • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)

Additionally, the CDC states that the following groups should not get the vaccine:

  • People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
  • People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination.
  • People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine.
  • Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group), and
  • People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.)

The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in, so it is recommended that you get the vaccination as early in the Fall as possible, although you will still benefit from the vaccine for as long as the flu is circulating in your area.

Many health insurance plans will cover the cost of vaccines; additionally many employers will contract with “shot nurses” who can come into the workplace to vaccinate their employees. If costs are a concern, check with your local health department to see about the availability of free or low cost shots. Many pharmacies and grocery stores offer the flu shot and might be less expensive than getting it through your doctor’s office.

Side effects of the vaccine include:

  • Soreness at the injection site
  • Low grade fever
  • Aches

Additionally, the flu mist nasal injection can cause:

  • Runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Sore throat

You should seek contact your doctor immediately if you experience more serious side effects.

If you choose not to get the flu vaccine, it’s important that you protect yourself from the flu in other ways and take care to avoid spreading it if you, or somebody in your family contracts it. Be sure to:

  • Wash hands often
  • Avoid touching mouth and nose
  • Wipe down frequently touched surfaces often (door knobs, telephones, computer equipment, etc)
  • Avoid crowded places
  • Stay home from work and other activities when sick
  • Cough into the crook of your arm or your shoulder
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get plenty of exercise
  • Get enough sleep

While most healthy people can recover from the flu with no issues, it’s still important to do your part to help control the spread of influenza as it can be deadly or profoundly incapacity to the elderly, young children and those with immune deficiencies.

What are you doing to protect yourself from the flu this year? Will you be getting the flu vaccine for yourself and your family?