Two bad reasons for not getting a flu shot

Nancy Ferrari

Managing Director and Executive Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

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We’re nearly a full month into fall, and flu season. You may have gotten a notice from your doctor that you can get a flu shot in his or her office. You pick up a prescription and the pharmacist mentions that flu shots are available at the pharmacy. Or your workplace offers a flu shot clinic. Yet you haven’t taken advantage of these offers. And you aren’t alone.

Two common reasons people give for avoiding the flu shot are 1) it will give me the flu and 2) it won’t work. Neither are accurate.

Who should get a flu shot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that starting at age 6 months, everyone should get the flu vaccine each year. Vaccination is especially important for people who are prone to serious or deadly complications from the flu. This includes young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.

Getting vaccinated against the flu can’t give you the flu. Vaccines given by a shot are made with flu viruses that have been killed or made unable to replicate in humans. Flu vaccines given as a nose spray contains weakened (attenuated) flu viruses that can’t survive the warmth of the lungs, so it can’t flourish and cause the flu.

In some people, the flu vaccine causes side effects. These include discomfort where the shot was given, low-grade fever, and achiness. These side effects can make you feel crummy for a day or two, but it’s not the flu. Some people may coincidentally come down with a cold soon after getting the shot (it’s happened to me) and confuse cold symptoms with the flu.

Skepticism about the flu vaccine’s effectiveness is understandable, but isn’t a good reason to skip it. There are dozens of different flu viruses. Long before flu season begins, experts must guess which ones will be most prominent the following flu season. This changes from year to year, which is why you need a flu shot every year.

Vaccines are created to protect against the three or four mostly likely culprits. Some years the guesses are good and the vaccines are quite effective. Other years the guesses aren’t so good and the vaccines aren’t as protective as they could be.

The flu vaccine may be imperfect, but it’s still worth getting. Here are three reasons why:

  1. It may keep you from getting the flu.
  2. If you do get the flu, you may not get as sick as you would have gotten without the vaccine, or you may be less likely to develop serious complications like pneumonia.
  3. If you don’t get the flu, you can’t pass it on. So you will help keep other people from getting sick—including those who may become seriously ill or die from flu complications.

All that said, there are some people who must be cautious about getting a flu shot. Children younger than 6 months are too young for the shot. People with egg or other allergies need to check with their doctors before getting the vaccine—as should anyone who has had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a neurological illness).

If you have the all clear to get a flu shot, they are widely available. You can get one at your doctor’s office or your local pharmacy. Many hospitals and workplaces also offer flu shots. If you need help locating a place to get vaccinated, go to the HealthMap Vaccine Finder, created by a team of researchers, epidemiologists, and software developers at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital.

In addition to getting a flu shot, follow common sense precautions to avoid the flu. Avoid close contact with sick people if you can; wash your hands often and thoroughly; if you’re sick stay at home; use a tissue to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing then throw it away; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth—germs spread easily this way; and clean common surfaces like doorknobs and phones.

Related Information: Cold and Flu


  1. Don’t trust the CDC

  2. Don’t trust CDC.

  3. Thissiteissopushy

    I agree with the many people who believe vaccination is not safe, so it is my right to refuse it without being subjected to pressure and propaganda. On the job, I had a tiny little cut – the kind of thing you would just wash and perhaps put a bandaid on. The rules of the company – a hospital – required that I go to the E.R. The doctor wanted to give me a tetanus shot and gave me an argument when I refused.
    By the way, this website is so pushy. I entered “lipoic acid” on Google, and one of the first sites was this one. I have seen repeated requests for my name and e-mail address, but nothing about lipoic acid. This is really dishonest.
    Yeah, as if I would give you my real name and e-mail address before I have even viewed your site. I have no respect for you people.

  4. Hair Transplant in Dubai

    I hope human body can fight those viruses.

  5. Gene Simmon

    I get a flu shot every year especially because of all the flu symtoms of people out there.

  6. Moye Jones

    Let’s be honest, I have a G.E.D. so I’m not the most educated. But if common sense had a degree I be a Dr. My take on the flu vaccine is> whats it matter get it or don’t it’s up to you and only you are in charge of your health. Some years I get the vaccine some years I don’t. But, either way I’m fine.

  7. Paul

    the human body is well equipped to fight off most viruses, if you keep your immune system healthy. un healthy diet and lifestyle, ? heck, just get a shot, or take a pill. who cares about the disastrous potential long term side effects from the poisons, heavy metals and unknowns in this cheap health crapshoot.

    • Edwin Parra

      Hi Paul,
      Iam vegetarian and I trust with you. The nutrition is the most important defense the body. The inmune system has the elements to fight this moments where the body clean himself of the trash….Excuseme of my english. I write from colombia south america. Thank you

    • Thissiteissopushy

      Good for you! The only person here who shows any sense.

  8. Riz

    Flu Shots have become very important after the break of Ebola, i was doing a little study on Ebola, got to know that it always start of FLU, which causes a problem to your Health… Ebola started out from Animal flu but this has to been still confirmed yet, but if we have a flu shots asap which will lower the chances of Ebola or getting sick…the viral FLU this year has occurred to even those people who have never been sick for a long time…

    • xxx

      These shots will supress immunesystem. My son was very healthy until he got shots. After 1 week of shot he has got severe stomach infection and just a week after he has got cold cough. Do you think it will help to stop flu in our body?

      No, It wil reduce immunity and will help to catch more flus so that doctor can get benefitted for more visits and co pays.

    • Science isn't a conspiracy


      I hope they remove your comment because you’re spreading something worse than a virus like Ebola, which is misinformation and ignorance.

      First of all, Ebola is a completely separate virus from the Flu – any strain of it – and the flu vaccine will not protect you or boost immunity for anything other than the particular, specific flu strains it’s inoculating you against.

      Please, educate yourself and stop spouting off totally incorrect information to people who may be desperate, naive or uneducated enough to believe what you’re saying.

  9. Sandeep

    I am from India my face skin is not natural look please suggest me some tips

  10. Lisa Smith

    Ms. Ferrari should read the insert for the flumist. It clearly states that the patient may shed a live virus for up to 28 days. So in other words, the patient is contagious for up to 4 weeks.

    Also there are serious side effects to any medical intervention. Nine year after the flu shot that almost killed me, I am facing surgery to fix the damage to my legs. With the flu, I would have been sick for at most 2 weeks. With the flu shot, I have been sick for 9 years.

  11. K Escalera

    Thank you for this article. The other common reason for declining the flu vaccine is because of the other ingredients that are said to be in the vaccine, such as mercury, formaldehyde, MSG. Can you speak to this?

    • Edwin Parra

      Good point to discuss

    • Science isn't a conspiracy

      @KEscalaera – Thimiserol (mercury) and MSG are NOT present in the flu vaccine. They are present in SOME vaccines, but not the flu shot.

      Please, educate yourself before making statements like these.
      Your doctor’s office can give you a complete list of ingredients for ANY common vaccination if you’re worried about those two ingredients (or any others), definitely ask. But don’t spread false information, please.

  12. yandi

    flu is often come in the rainy season, and it is very common, because people do not prepare and even not ready at all to face the rainy season. If I keep eating to cope with regular exercise and rain at home and keeping the house in order to attack the flu virus is not easy, thank you for sharing interesting article.

  13. penny

    hmmm lets look at this with evidence, shall we not the knee jerk heuristic that accepts that pushes this perpetually unpopular vaccine
    Two common reasons people give for avoiding the flu shot are 1) it will give me the flu and 2) it won’t work. Neither are accurate?

    Fact: evidence actually shows that for most people, the flu shot will indeed not work.59% sounds effective, yet what benefit does the vaccine have? Cochrane researcher Demicheli states that the ability of the vaccine to produce antibodies against the virus is not an indicator of protection and are not the important measure of vaccine efficacy. Instead, we should measure the ability of the vaccine to prevent clinical disease. Is the vaccine clinically effective? Not a single RCT of the inactivated vaccine shows any protection for older adults and children 2-17. IN adults, the flu vaccine reduced absenteeism by only 0.16 days (about four hours) for each influenza episode. What does 59% effiacy mean to our nations health? Even CDC admits probably nothing. In a 2012 review in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report(MMWR), 15 vaccines were highlighted for their significant role in reducing morbidity in the last 60 years. Of note, the influenza vaccine was not one of these, despite accounting for 26% of the citations

    Fact: flu vaccine DOES cause the flu ( or at least leaves us suspectable to other non influenza respiratory illness) Mclean et al (2014) has done a new 8 year longitudinal study that found those who were vaccinated yearly had more respiratory disease.

    hPuts a whole new spin on the “do not harm” dictum. Dont it?

    • vince

      Here is a look at some good studies done at Cochrane “Vaccines for preventing influenza in healthy children.
      Jefferson T1, ‘ ….”MAIN RESULTS:

      We included 75 studies with about 300,000 observations. We included 17 RCTs, 19 cohort studies and 11 case-control studies in the analysis of vaccine efficacy and effectiveness. Evidence from RCTs shows that six children under the age of six need to be vaccinated with live attenuated vaccine to prevent one case of influenza (infection and symptoms). We could find no usable data for those aged two years or younger.Inactivated vaccines in children aged two years or younger are not significantly more efficacious than placebo. ..

      A similar Cochrane review found the that in healthy adults “Influenza vaccines have a very modest effect in reducing influenza symptoms and working days lost in the general population, including pregnant women. No evidence of association between influenza vaccination and serious adverse events was found in the comparative studies considered in the review…

      And for the elderly……”The available evidence is of poor quality and provides no guidance regarding the safety, efficacy or effectiveness of influenza vaccines for people aged 65 years or older. “……Jefferson 2010

      Science ? First do no harm….?

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