What is the flu?

“Flu” is shorthand for influenza. Influenza is a virus that circulates in the winter months and causes fevers, body aches, and cough. It is more serious than the common cold and can cause severe illness including pneumonia, hospitalization, and death.

What is the flu vaccine or “flu shot?”

The flu shot is a vaccine that’s designed to boost your body’s natural immune response to better fight off the influenza virus. It does not protect you against other common cold viruses and flu-like viruses that also circulate in the winter.

How is the flu vaccine made?

The influenza virus mutates and changes every year so each year the World Health Organization predicts which strains are most likely to circulate the next year (based on the current year’s strains). Some year’s predictions are better than others. This year, the vaccine composition is completely different as last year’s match was poor.

Are there different kinds of flu vaccines?

Yes! The standard and most common flu shots protect you against either 3 or 4 different flu strains. The CDC does not express a preference for the trivalent vaccine (3 strains) or the quadrivalent vaccine (4 strains). It is manufactured using chicken eggs.
The Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (see below) is given via a nasal mist without needles.
There are also high-dose flu shots for people over 65, and a flu shot made without the use of chicken eggs for severely egg-allergic patients.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

Nearly everyone 6 months and older, including pregnant women.

Who should NOT get the flu shot?

The only major contraindication to the flu shot is a prior serious allergic reaction (not counting minor redness or swelling at the injection site). If you have a moderate to severe illness with fever, you should delay the vaccine. There are certain groups (see below) who should avoid the live nasal spray flu vaccine.

What is Flumist or nasal mist vaccine?

The Flumist is a live vaccine (containing active but weakened flu viruses, as opposed to the standard flu shot which contains no live virus). It is intended only for healthy non-pregnant persons ages 2-49. Pregnant women, persons with weakened immune systems or asthma, and adults over 50 should not receive the live nasal flu vaccine.

What are the risks from the flu shot?

Very, very few. Minor local reactions (redness, swelling, pain) are relatively common but serious reactions are extremely rare.

Will I get sick from the flu shot?

The standard flu shot does not contain active virus and cannot make you sick. The vaccine works by stimulating an immune response, which some people perceive as mild fatigue or achiness, but this is a normal response. The nasal mist is live, and those with weakened immune systems should avoid it.

I’m healthy. Why should I get the flu shot?

Influenza kills thousands of people every year. Although some conditions (such as pregnancy, advanced age, other health conditions) increase the risk of serious influenza complications, even healthy adults and children become seriously ill and die from the flu every year. Even in years when the vaccine “match” to the common circulating flu strains is poor, studies have shown there is some protection from the vaccine and lowered risk of death from influenza.

Andrea Sullivan

Andrea is a board certified Internal Medicine physician with ten years of experience in primary care. She has worked in health care settings ranging from large university medical centers to community-based free clinics for the underserved to multi-specialty medical groups delivering comprehensive care. Andrea, passionately interested in communication and education, gets her energy from empowering her patients with the information to take charge of their own health, a perfect fit for our mission at the AMP Wellness Center. She grew up on the peninsula, graduated from Stanford University with a BA in Psychology before moving on to New York for medical school and UCLA to complete her residency in Internal Medicine. Andrea lives with her husband and three children in South Bay. She is active in her family’s life and continues to take time to enjoy the art, cuisine, and many outdoor adventures available in our area.