Body Blog: Should You Get a Flu Shot?

Yes, it’s that time of year again. It’s getting cooler out, and before you know it the leaves will be changing, along with your wardrobe. You hear the crisp fall breeze whistling through the trees, the fallen leaves crunching under your feet, and…hacking coughs? That’s right, ladies, flu season is almost here.

Now, I have a bit of a strange confession to make – I’ve never had the flu! It’s not that I don’t get sick. In high school, I used to get sick every winter without fail, but I usually got stuck with sinus infections or bronchitis. Never the flu. As you probably remember, in the fall of 2009, which was my freshman year of college, the swine flu hit. Almost every friend I had made at school got some version of the flu, whether it was of the piggy variety or just your grandma’s regular old influenza. I was scared. I’d just been sick for weeks (bronchitis AND a sinus infection) and had missed tons of classes. So what did I do? I got vaccinated for the swine flu and the regular flu. And it worked. No flu for me.

Even though I had a good experience, I’m still never sure whether or not I should get a flu shot, and I’ve heard lots of my friends say the same. I’m not a medical professional, so I can’t give a recommendation on the topic, but I’ve put together some information about the pros and cons of the influenza vaccine to help you (and myself) to make the decision this fall.

First, the facts: this link from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will give you all the basic information you need to know about the vaccine itself, including the different types of vaccines, and who should not be vaccinated.

You can find safety information about the vaccine here. As with any shot or medical procedure, there are potential side effects, although these are generally very mild.

The CDC does recommend that everyone get a flu shot each year, especially people with certain medical conditions.

There are many, many strains of influenza, and each year’s version of the influenza vaccine only protects against a select few of these strains. Every year, scientists have to make their best guess about which strains are circulating, and design a vaccine they think will be effective. So yes, it is possible that you could catch a strain of the flu that is not protected against by the vaccine.

Healthy people between the ages of 18 and 50 generally have no problem fighting the flu. If you’ve had the flu before, you may have immunity to the strain you were infected with. However, if you happen to be exposed to a different strain, your immunity may not help you. It’s also possible to develop a secondary infection, like a staph infection, after you’ve had the flu. This can be even more dangerous than the flu itself.

A recent study  did show that in 2006, when the US government started to recommend that preschoolers get the flu shot, hospital visit due to the flu for all children ages 5 to 18 went down. So the vaccine is effective.

Whether or not you get the flu shot, remember to wash your hands! (I know, I sound like your mom.) And don’t forget that if you decide to get vaccinated, you can probably get the shot for free through your school’s health services. Most insurance plans also help out with the cost of a flu shot.

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