Getting a Flu Vaccination

The flu (influenza) is caused by a virus that is easily spread. A flu vaccine is your best chance to avoid the flu. The vaccine is given in the form of a shot (injection) or a nasal spray. It’s best to get vaccinated each year when the flu vaccine is available in your area. This can be done at your health care provider’s office or a health clinic. Drugstores, senior centers, and workplaces often offer flu vaccinations, too. If you want to know when the vaccine is available or if you have questions about getting vaccinated, ask your health care provider.

Flu facts

  • The flu vaccine will not give you the flu.

  • The flu is caused by a virus. It can’t be treated with antibiotics.

  • The flu can be life-threatening, especially for people in high-risk groups.

  • Influenza is not the same as “stomach flu,” the 24-hour bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea. This is most likely due to a GI (gastrointestinal) infection—not the flu.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly. Fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches are symptoms of the flu. Children may have upset stomach or vomiting, but adults usually don’t. Some symptoms, such as fatigue and cough, can last a few weeks.

How a flu vaccine protects youWoman getting vaccine shot by health care provider.

There are many strains (types) of flu viruses. Medical experts predict which strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Flu vaccines are made from these strains. With the shot, inactivated (“killed”) flu viruses are injected into your body. With the nasal spray, live and weakened viruses are sprayed into your nose. The viruses in both vaccines cannot make you sick. But they do prompt the body to make antibodies to fight these flu strains. If you’re exposed to the same strains later in the flu season, the antibodies will fight off the virus. Your health care provider can tell you which type of flu vaccine is right for you.

Who should get the flu vaccination?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that infants over the age of 6 months and all children and adults should get a flu shot every year.

Some people are at an increased risk of developing serious complications from the flu. It's extremely important that these people get the vaccine. They include those with:

  • Long-term heart and lung conditions

  • Other serious medical conditions:

    • Endocrine disorders, like diabetes

    • Kidney or liver disorders

    • Weak immune system from disease or medical treatment, for example those with HIV or AIDS or those taking long-term steroids or medications to treat cancer

    • Blood disorders, such as sickle cell disease

It is also very important that others that have an increased risk of being exposed to the flu or are around people with increased risk of complications get the vaccine. They are:

  • Health care providers and other staff that provide care in hospitals, nursing homes, home health, and other facilities

  • Household members, including children of people in high-risk groups

Types of flu vaccines

The flu vaccine is available as a shot and as a nasal spray. Your health care provider will recommend the vaccine that is best for you.

  • The shot is available in a few different forms. There is a high-dose vaccine for those over age 65 and a vaccine for those with egg allergies. It's safe for most people. Talk with your provider if you have had:

    • A severe allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine

    • Guillain-barre syndrome (a severe paralyzing condition)

  • The nasal spray is recommended for people from 2 to 49 years of age. It should not be given to adults who:

    • Are pregnant

    • Have weak immune systems

    • Have egg allergies

    • Will be in close contact with someone with a weak immune system

    • Have taken antiviral medication in the past 2 days