Posted by Michael Barber, June 27, 2013 (last updated on November 28, 2018)
The flu shot has been subject to a lot of controversy, particularly in the past few years. While most experts agree that it is safe and smart to get the vaccination - which is one of the more popular seasonal services at urgent care centers - people should consider both the pros and cons of flu shots and nasal vaccines, as well as all vaccines.
What is the Flu Shot?
Before getting into the effects of both having or avoiding one, let’s talk a bit about what a flu shot actually is. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive the flu vaccine on an annual basis, usually at the start of the fall months. The vaccine, technically called the influenza vaccination, is typically delivered as a shot and contains antigens for three or four of the most comment flu virus strains: type A with subtype H1N1, type A with subtype h2N2 and either one or two type B virus strains. If you want to avoid needles, the flu vaccine is sometimes available as a nasal spray. Regardless of the delivery mechanism, the purpose is to provide significant protection against the influenza virus and, while there are lots of mixed opinions, there is no medical evidence that indicates the vaccine causes serious harm or side effects.
Pros of Flu Vaccines
More than 200,000 people are hospitalized a year for influenza with approximately 49,000 people dying. People who get the vaccine generally do not have to worry about these grim possibilities.
Feel Safer in Public
People who get the flu vaccine have a better state of mind in public during the flu season, because the shot cuts a person's risk of getting the flu by 70%. Vaccinated children are safer in schools (in fact, many school districts require annual flu shots), and vaccinated nurses are safer in hospitals that could contain the virus on handrails and door handles.
High Risk Patients Are Less Likely to Die of Flu
People with diabetes, heart disease, or asthma are 80% less likely to die from the flu if they have had the flu vaccine. Senior citizens and children are also less likely to die from influenza if they have been vaccinated. This is why the vaccine is first offered to seniors, children, and those with special illnesses when there are vaccine shortages.
Cons of Flu Vaccines
Nasal Vaccine Could Spread
Although highly unlikely, the nasal vaccine has transferred to other people from the recipient on rare occasion. While this is not likely, it is a possibility that individuals and parents should consider. However, the nasal flu vaccine has not been proven to give the recipient the flu. Also, the traditional shot-form of the flu vaccine has never given the recipient or others the flu.
You Need It Every Year
Patients must get the vaccine every single year. There is no flu vaccine that is good for more than one year, because the flu strains that threaten people change and evolve each year.
Soreness, Redness, and Swelling
While the flu shot is considered safe by experts, it still has side effects. Most people experience at least one symptom from the list of side effects. The most common ones are soreness, redness, or swelling at the point of injection. It is not uncommon for people to experience a sore throat, runny nose, low-grade fever, headache, or chills. While these side effects are a definite con for the flu vaccine, most people agree that they are much less severe than the flu.
Potential to Develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome
There is a slight risk that flu vaccine recipients could develop Guillain-Barré Syndrome as a result of the vaccination. The influenza vaccination is known to increase the risk of developing the syndrome. People with this illness face life-long muscle weakness, possible paralysis, and death. Choosing to get the influenza vaccination is highly personal and subject to considerations such as severe egg allergy. People should carefully weigh the pros and cons, and determine if the flu shot is a good choice in their personal situation. However, for most people most of the time experts agree that the flu shot is a smart, safe choice for them.