Does Getting the Flu Shot Really Make Me Sick?

The time of year between October/November through April/May is ‘flu season’. This is the time recognized by medical experts around the world when the Northern hemisphere is likely to have large communities of people transmitting the flu virus between themselves. Each year in the United States influenza kills 36,000 people, mostly elderly and hospitalizes 200,000 or more. Protection is available, however, in the form of a vaccination that can help reduce symptoms, or even prevent the disease altogether.

How Does the Flu Vaccine Work?

Each year medical experts around the country and the world examine many strains of the influenza virus gathered from various communities and, using predictive models, simulations and other scientific techniques make an ‘educated guess’ as to which strains of flu are likely to be prevalent in the coming flu season. The top three candidates of virus are grown in eggs and distributed in a vaccine form in one of two ways: The flu shot, and the nasal spray. The flu shot contains dead viruses and is injected directly into your bloodstream with a needle. The nasal spray actually contains live viruses that have been signficantly weakened. Both versions of the vaccine work by forcing your body to produce antibodies against them, which takes about two weeks after you receive the vaccination.

So Can Getting the Shot Make Me Sick?

Um…no, not really. People who are allergic to chicken eggs (in which the vaccine is grown) should not get the shot and only healthy persons between the age of 10 and 50 are recommended to get the nasal vaccine due to the rare (5-10%) side effects it may have which include mild-grade fever and headaches. The shot has proven to be somewhat more effective than the nasal spray and there is a very small and rare chance that those who get the nasal spray vaccination may actually pass those weakened viruses onto others.

Flu shots are overall 75% effective in preventing the flu or reducing the severity of flu symptoms should you happen to get the flu anyway. They are recommended for pretty much everyone over the age of six months, though they can have reduced effectiveness in adults above 60 years old because their bodies produce fewer antibodies in general. Only a limited number of flu vaccinations are produced every year and getting the shot is covered by most insurance, so experts recommend making an appointment with your clinic to receive the flu shot early (as soon as it becomes available).

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