<img src="//tracker.clixtell.com/track/t.gif">
Skip to the main content.
Call Us Now
Call Us Now

7 min read

Flu Shot Pros and Cons: Your Questions Answered

"The upside of the flu shot is that it can prevent many strains of the flu, which can be a debilitating and sometimes deadly disease. The downsides are that it typically prevents around 60-70% of flu strains, so it is still possible to get the flu after receiving the vaccination. Adverse effects are exceedingly rare but can happen."        -Max Muller

Influenza, often referred to as the flu, is a seasonal menace that targets the respiratory system with unwavering determination. It's a virus that has the potential to wreak havoc, especially among vulnerable individuals, leading to severe complications and even fatalities.

Is The Flu Shot Safe?

Thankfully, there's a potent line of defense in the form of the flu shot. These annual vaccinations are hailed as our best bet in curbing the spread of the influenza virus and mitigating its potentially devastating effects during and outside flu season. 
However, like any medical intervention, they come with their considerations, from mild reactions like soreness at the injection site to more complex concerns. 
This article aims to comprehensively understand flu shot benefits and disadvantages, supported by research and expert insights. If you're among those who have questions or concerns about flu vaccines, you've come to the right place to find answers and make informed choices for your health.

The safety of the flu vaccine is well-established, with a significant record over the last 50 years. Hundreds of millions in the U.S. have received flu vaccines without encountering significant issues.Severe side effects are exceptionally rare, occurring in only about 0.2 cases per million vaccinations, according to a report published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thoroughly assesses flu vaccine safety and efficacy before public release, ensuring that all vaccine components meet strict manufacturing guidelines. Ongoing vigilance is maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FDA, who closely monitor influenza vaccine safety through systems like the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) designed to help better understand the collective effect of vaccines in large quantities. While the benefits of the flu vaccine in preventing influenza are substantial, weighing the pros and cons is essential for making informed health decisions. (Sources: CDC, JACI Online, FDA).

What Are The Flu Shot Benefits?

Influenza vaccine benefits extend beyond personal health, making it a key choice for individuals and their communities. Getting a flu shot is important to protect your health by reducing the risk of falling ill due to the influenza virus. However, its significance goes further; it may also help the people around you, particularly those more susceptible to severe flu complications. Following are some of the benefits of getting the flu vaccine:

Flu prevention

The influenza vaccine significantly enhances flu prevention, with the CDC reporting 40-60% efficacy when matched with prevalent virus strains. The vaccine bolsters the body's defense mechanisms by introducing influenza proteins, prompting the production of flu-targeting antibodies. These vigilant antibodies provide robust flu prevention by standing guard throughout the flu season, reducing the risk of infection and its potential complications. 

Less severe flu

Does the flu vaccine reduce severity? Yes, indeed. While it doesn't guarantee complete immunity, it significantly lessens the impact of the flu. The immune system becomes more adept at promptly recognizing and countering the virus post-vaccination. A 2015 study published in Vaccine found that vaccinated adults experienced fewer high fevers and, despite reporting more muscle aches, saw symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and breathlessness resolve 1-2 days faster than the unvaccinated. Moreover, vaccination reduced the risk of death from the flu by 52%-79% compared to the unvaccinated, as reported by the CDC.

Lower risk of complications

The flu vaccine is leading in lowering the risk of influenza-associated complications. While most flu cases are mild and don't require medical attention, some can escalate into severe issues like pneumonia, necessitating hospitalization. 

Flu hospitalization rates can vary but range from 140,000 to 710,000 annually, depending on the flu season's severity. The flu vaccine substantially reduces the likelihood of hospitalization by bolstering the immune system's efficiency in identifying and combating the virus. In the 2021-2022 flu season, flu vaccinations prevented an estimated 22,000 hospitalizations, among other significant reductions in illnesses and medical visits, particularly benefiting vulnerable groups such as adults over 65, pregnant individuals, toddlers under 2, and those with chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes, as outlined by the CDC.

Community Protection

The importance of the flu vaccine goes beyond individual health; it provides vital community protection, particularly for the most vulnerable, such as older adults and infants under six months, who cannot receive the vaccine. This protective mechanism is rooted in herd immunity. When more individuals are immune through vaccination, it becomes less likely for the flu to spread easily within the community, reducing the overall risk of outbreaks and protecting those who cannot be vaccinated.

What Are The Risks Of The Flu Shot?

While flu vaccines contribute significantly to individual and community health, it's important to acknowledge that they come with certain risks. These risks of flu vaccines, though statistically rare, should be considered. Here are some potential cons that come with the influenza vaccine:

You could still get the flu

One of the cons of a flu vaccine is that it doesn't guarantee absolute protection from the flu. Key facts from the CDC demonstrate that after vaccination, there's a two-week period during which the body builds immunity, leaving a brief window of vulnerability. Despite vaccination, 40% to 60% of recipients may contract the flu, albeit with potentially milder symptoms. It underscores the importance of continued vigilance and other preventive measures during the flu season.

Common side effects of the flu shot

Flu vaccine side effects are generally mild, typically lasting just 1 to 2 days. Common side effects, as reported by the CDC, include:

Low-grade fever: A mild increase in body temperature is a common side effect of the flu vaccine. It's usually short-lived and indicates that the body is building immunity in response to the vaccine.

Headache: Some individuals may experience a mild headache after receiving the flu vaccine. This side effect is often manageable with over-the-counter pain relievers and typically resolves within a day or two.

Muscle aches: Muscle aches can occur as the body's immune system responds to the vaccine. These aches are generally mild and transient, lasting briefly before subsiding.

Nausea: Although less common, some people may feel slightly nauseous after getting the flu shot. This sensation typically dissipates quickly and is not severe.

Swelling or soreness at the injection site: It's common to experience local discomfort, swelling, or soreness at the spot where the vaccine was administered. This is usually a sign of the body's immune response to the vaccine and tends to resolve within a day or two.

Redness around the injection area: Redness at the injection site is another localized reaction to the flu vaccine. Like swelling and soreness, it's usually mild and temporary, disappearing shortly after vaccination.

It's important to note that despite these side effects resembling mild flu symptoms, the vaccine cannot cause the flu because it does not contain a live virus. These temporary discomforts are a small price for what the flu vaccine protects.

Severe allergic reaction

While the flu vaccine is generally safe, there are potential dangers of flu shot. After any vaccine, including the flu vaccine, watch for unusual conditions like a high fever, behavior changes, or signs of a severe allergic reaction. The CDC considers the following as signs of a severe allergic reaction:

  • Difficulty breathing and Wheezing: Severe allergic reactions to the flu shot may manifest as difficulty breathing and wheezing. This indicates a potentially life-threatening condition where the airways become constricted, making breathing hard. Wheezing is a high-pitched sound produced when breathing through narrowed air passages.
  • Rapid Heartbeat: A rapid heartbeat, known as tachycardia, can occur during a severe allergic reaction. This is often a response to the body's increased stress and can lead to palpitations and feelings of unease.
  • Rash or Hives: Skin reactions are a hallmark sign of a severe allergic response. Patients may develop a rash, which can vary in appearance from redness and itching to raised, itchy welts called hives. These skin changes can be widespread or localized.
  • Swelling around the Eyes and Mouth: Swelling, or angioedema, around the eyes and mouth, is another concerning symptom of a severe allergic reaction. It can lead to facial puffiness and sometimes difficulty speaking or swallowing.
  • Feeling Weak or Dizzy: A severe allergic reaction can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, leading to feelings of weakness or dizziness. In extreme cases, this can result in fainting or loss of consciousness.

If any of these symptoms occur after vaccination, it's essential to consult a doctor, and a severe allergic reaction warrants immediate attention at an emergency room for prompt intervention and treatment.

Guillain-Barré syndrome

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare condition in which the immune system attacks peripheral nerves, can, in exceptionally rare instances, be triggered by a flu shot.

Individuals with a history of GBS should consult their doctor before getting vaccinated, as the risk of this complication, although minimal, is a potential concern in these cases. It's important to weigh this risk against the benefits of flu vaccination when considering immunization.

Is The Flu Shot Safe For Babies?

The flu shot for babies presents both pros and cons. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends flu shots for all children older than six months due to their heightened risk of severe flu-related illnesses. A 2022 study found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of severe, life-threatening influenza in children by 75%. Most flu-linked deaths in children occur in the unvaccinated. 

However, potential drawbacks include mild discomfort, such as pain and swelling at the injection site, and some first-time vaccine recipients, especially children, may experience fever and aches.To provide comprehensive protection, It's important for those in close contact with infants and young children to get vaccinated against the flu.

Is The Flu Shot Safe For Pregnant Women?

The flu shot's benefits for pregnant women far outweigh the potential risks. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices strongly recommends flu vaccination during pregnancy.

Pregnancy inherently elevates the risk of severe flu-related complications. A study published in the Infectious Diseases Society of America reports that for expectant mothers, the flu shot significantly reduces the risk of acute respiratory infection by 50%, decreases chances of flu-related hospitalization by 40%, and even extends protection to the newborn for several months post-birth.

While mild flu shot side effects like nausea and swelling might occur post-vaccination for pregnant women, the overall protection it offers to both mother and baby makes it a prudent choice during pregnancy.

How Often Do I Need To Get The Flu Shot?

The CDC recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone aged six months and older. Since flu strains change each flu season, doctors rely on their knowledge of the most common strains to determine the composition of the flu vaccination.

Additionally, children between six months and eight years who receive the flu vaccine for the first time should receive a second shot four weeks after the initial vaccination to ensure full protection.

What should I do if I have had a serious reaction to the flu shot?

If you've experienced a serious reaction to the flu vaccine, immediate action is crucial. Consult a doctor promptly and provide detailed information about the incident, including the date and time of vaccination. Ask your healthcare provider to submit a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form to document the reaction. VAERS reports can be filed by anyone involved, including patients, healthcare providers, and even vaccine manufacturers.

Follow your doctor's treatment recommendations, and consider seeking a second opinion. If health or legal complications arise, it is advisable to consult a vaccine injury lawyer who can guide potential claims under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), which compensates most vaccine injuries on a "no-fault" basis.

Meet the Author

Paul Brazil - Founding Partner

Paul Brazil is a native of Dunmore, Pennsylvania and a graduate of Dunmore High School. For his undergraduate education, he attended Bloomsburg University where he majored in political science. He then went on to earn his JD from Widener University School of Law. Following graduation from law school, Mr. Brazil worked at a large Philadelphia civil defense firm where he litigated workers’ compensation claims and Heart and Lung Act cases. In 2012, he joined with his coworker Max Muller to form Muller Brazil. 

New call-to-action

Other posts by Paul Brazil

Everything You Need to Know About a Flu Shot Lawsuit

Everything You Need to Know About a Flu Shot Lawsuit

Many people have serious concerns about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and the flu shot is no exception. In recent years, many lawsuits have...

Read More
How Long After The Flu Shot Does Guillain-Barré Syndrome Develop

How Long After The Flu Shot Does Guillain-Barré Syndrome Develop

If you're thinking about getting a flu shot, it's good to know that Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is a very rare side effect, occurring in only about...

Read More
Can I Get a Flu Shot if I Have a Cold? Expert Advice on Vaccinations & Mild Illness

Can I Get a Flu Shot if I Have a Cold? Expert Advice on Vaccinations & Mild Illness

There can occasionally be some confusion with the question, “Can I get a flu shot if I have a cold?” Most often, the answer is yes.

Read More