4 Questions to Help Decide Whether to Get a Flu Shot

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Should you be getting a flu shot? The answer’s not as simple as you might think.

You know the old saying that there are only 2 things guaranteed in life, death, and taxes? Well, that’s not entirely accurate. There are 3 things guaranteed in life—death, taxes, and flu season. This is why you should be thinking about the flu shot, especially this year.

Most people decide to get a flu shot based on what they’ve always done or what they’ve always believed. This year, make a decision based on more than habit or hearsay. Here are 4 important questions and answers to help you decide:

1. How do they know which flu strains to use in the flu shot?

Really well-educated guesswork.

The process of developing each year’s flu shot starts the previous year. More than 140 different, smaller influenza centers in nearly 115 countries gather and study the flu data from around the world.

That analysis then gets sent to the 5 major health research centers throughout the world, including the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here in the U.S. They analyze the information gathered—and design a flu vaccine for the following flu season. But it’s an inexact science and sometimes they miss. Unfortunately, there’s just no real way of knowing if this year’s vaccine will treat the flu bug to which you might be exposed.

2. If they’re just guessing about what to put into the flu shot, is it really effective?

It’s a crapshoot. Even in years when they get the flu shot right, it still only reduces the risk by 50–60%. It’s most effective in adults who are already healthy. Flu shots aren’t as effective in young children, adults with health conditions, and people over the age of 65.

3. Can I still get the flu if I get the flu shot?

Honestly, yes. Again, during the most effective years, it still only reduces incidence of flu by 50–60%. That means 40–50% of people who got the shot will still get the flu. Also, the shot takes up to 2 weeks to take hold and provide protection. If you were already exposed to the flu at the time you got the shot, you could still end up sick. You cannot, however, get the flu from the flu shot.

4. Wait—they’re just guessing, and I can still get sick. Why should I bother to get the flu shot at all?

People in the 40–50% range who get the flu shot and still get the flu tend to get less severe cases of flu and end up not being as sick for as long. Even if the flu shot doesn’t protect you completely, it may offer enough protection to reduce the severity of your flu. Or you may not want to bother with it, given this information. That’s fair, too.

The choice to get a flu shot, or not, is yours—and that’s the point.