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The Flu Vaccine

If you've ever had the flu, you know how bad it can make you feel. To help skip all that misery — as well as possible health problems from the flu — doctors recommend that all teens get a flu vaccine every year.

Why Get the Flu Vaccine?

The main reason to get vaccinated is to spare yourself the misery of flu. But there are other good reasons too.

It's especially important for people with some medical conditions (like kidney disease, diabetes, HIV, heart problems, or asthma) to get a flu vaccine. They are more likely to have serious health problems (like pneumonia) when they get the flu.

Kids and teens who take aspirin regularly also need to be vaccinated. They're at risk for getting a serious condition called Reye syndrome if they get the flu.

Another reason to get vaccinated is to protect the people around you who might get very ill from flu — like babies, people with serious medical conditions, and the elderly. When you protect yourself with the flu vaccine, you also protect other people who are at risk because there's less chance you'll get the flu and pass it on. (Sometimes people call this "herd immunity.")

When Should a Person Get Vaccinated?

The best time to get a flu vaccine is before flu season starts in October. This gives the body timto build immunity before the winter flu season. It's best to get vaccinated as soon as this year's flu vaccine becomes available, which usually is around September. (Your mom or dad can find out from your doctor's office, or you can ask your school nurse.)

Even if you can't get vaccinated right away, getting a flu vaccine later will still give you some protection. You also can protect yourself against the flu (and many other infections) by washing your hands well and often.

What's in a Flu Vaccine?

Flu vaccines come in two forms, a shot and a nasal spray:

  • The shot contains killed flu viruses.
  • The nasal spray contains weakened live flu virus, which can't cause the flu.

Both cause the body to make antibodies to fight off infection by the live flu virus, and both work equally well. This flu season (2019–2020), get whichever vaccine your doctor recommends. People with weak immune systems or some health conditions (such as asthma) and pregnant women should not get the nasal spray vaccine.

The flu vaccine is very good at protecting against the flu, but it's not 100%. And it only works against some types of the virus. If a new flu type appears, a person who's had the vaccine may not be protected against it.

A few people who get the vaccine might get the flu, but it will be much milder and go away sooner than if they hadn't been vaccinated.

Does the Flu Vaccine Have Side Effects?

It's possible to have some minor side effects for 1–2 days after getting a flu shot. You might feel a little sore in the area where you got the shot. Some people may feel achy or have a mild fever. And the nasal spray vaccine might cause mild flu-like symptoms. But the side effects aren't as bad as the flu, which can make some people sick for as long as 2 or 3 weeks.

If you have an egg allergy, get your flu shot in a doctor's office, not at a supermarket, drugstore, or other venue.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date Reviewed: 20-09-2019

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