A Patient Education Guide
Questions and Answers about the Flu Vaccine
What’s in the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine contains either inactivated or weakened strains of 3 influenza viruses. Flu vaccines that are given by nasal spray are made up of live, weakened flu viruses. The viruses in these so-called “live attenuated influenza vaccines” are not strong enough to make you sick, but they do trigger your body to make antibodies against the influenza virus. Flu vaccines that are given as a shot contain killed viruses and are known as trivalent inactivated vaccine.
Who should receive the flu shot?
Immunization is recommended every year for almost everyone 6 months of age and older, unless they have a condition that warns against it. Vaccination is especially important for:
- Pregnant women
- Children, particularly those younger than 2
- Adults age 50 and older
- People who are chronically ill
- People who live in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes
- People, including health care workers, who attend to those at high risk of flu; household contacts of persons at high risk of complications from flu; and household contacts and caregivers of children younger than 6 months, who cannot be vaccinated and therefore should be protected from contact with the virus
Are there any reasons why I should not get vaccinated?
Talk with your doctor before getting a flu vaccine if you:
- Are severely allergic to chicken eggs
- Have had a bad reaction to the flu vaccine
- Have a moderate-to-severe illness involving a fever after a vaccination
- Experienced a severe paralytic illness, known as Guillain-Barré Syndrome or GBS, after getting a flu shot
Who should get which kind of flu shot?
If you are 65 years and older, you can receive the high-dose flu shot. The flu shot is approved for people 18 to 64 years old. The nasal spray flu vaccine is an option for anyone between the ages of 2 and 49 years. Infants can receive the regular flu shot.
When should I get vaccinated?
Plan to get the vaccination as soon as it becomes available in your area. This is important because it takes about 2 weeks to build up enough antibodies to protect you against flu. Vaccinations are typically available between October and May, but the best time to get vaccinated is before December so that you are protected during peak flu season.
Will I get sick from the vaccine?
Depending on the type of vaccine you receive, you might experience different symptoms. If you receive a shot, you can expect some tenderness and swelling to develop at the vaccination site. You might also have fever and minor aches. If you are vaccinated by nasal spray, you might experience runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, sore throat, cough, and muscle aches.
All these symptoms are temporary and generally resolve within a day or two. Don’t panic, this is perfectly normal and does not mean that you have the flu! Quite the opposite: the symptoms are a sign that your body is building up protective antibodies to fight off a full-blown case of the flu.
(Source: Centers for Disease Control: Seasonal Influenza—Key Facts about Seasonal Flu. www. cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm)