- The pros of the flu shot include a reduced risk of getting the flu, which sets you up for saving money on medical bills, a decreased chance of hospitalization, and the knowledge that you are helping protect your community.
- The cons of the flu shot are mild side effects and the possibility that you may still get the flu even if you get vaccinated.
- The upside though is that if you get the flu after being vaccinated, your symptoms will probably be less severe than if hadn’t gotten a flu shot.
- This article was reviewed by Jason R. McKnight, MD, MS, a family medicine physician and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Medicine.
- This story is part of Insider’s Flu Shot Guide.
One of the best ways to stay healthy through the winter is to get a flu vaccine, which protects you against the influenza virus and flu symptoms like fever, coughing, and congestion.
Yet, a majority of US adults skip getting the flu shot each year – during the 2018-2019 flu season, only 45% of adults got a flu vaccine.
Some may worry about mild side effects like achy muscles from the flu shot, but getting vaccinated can help you avoid serious complications like pneumonia and keep you out of the hospital.
Here are some of the pros and cons of getting a flu shot.
Pros of the flu shot
Getting vaccinated for the flu is an important step to protect your health, and may also benefit the people around you. Here are some of the advantages of getting the flu shot.
1. Prevents the flu
On years when the vaccine is a good match, it is able to prevent 40% to 60% of flu infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu vaccines prevented 4.4 million cases of the flu and 3,500 deaths during the 2018 to 2019 flu season.
The flu shot works by injecting proteins from the influenza virus into your bloodstream. Your immune system reacts by generating specialized immune cells called antibodies that can fight off the flu virus. These antibodies stay in your system throughout the flu season and can stop you from getting sick or make a flu infection much less severe.
2. Even if you do get the flu, it will likely be less severe
It’s still possible to get the flu even if you’ve had the flu shot, but your infection may be less severe.
This is because after getting a flu shot, your immune cells are more likely to recognize the flu virus as a threat and fight it off more quickly.
A study published in 2015 in the journal Vaccine found that vaccinated adults with a flu infection were less likely to have a fever over 101 degrees, but were more likely to have muscle aches, compared with unvaccinated people. Vaccinated people’s symptoms also cleared up faster – they had 1 to 2 days less of fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
Vaccinated adults were also between 52% and 79% less likely to die from the flu, compared with people who had not gotten a flu shot.
3. The flu shot can keep you out of the hospital
Most cases of the flu are mild and don’t require medical treatment. But in some cases, a flu infection can lead to life-threatening complications, like pneumonia, that need to be treated at a hospital. The flu shot can keep you out of the hospital by helping your immune system recognize and fight the infection more quickly and effectively.
The CDC estimates that between 140,000 and 960,000 people are hospitalized for flu infections each year, depending on how bad the flu season is. But an estimated 91,000 hospitalizations are also avoided each year, thanks to the flu vaccine.
People most at risk of developing a serious complication include:
- Adults over 65
- Pregnant people
- Children under 2 years old
- People with chronic health conditions like asthma or diabetes
4. The flu shot could save you money
If you end up in the hospital with a severe flu infection, the costs can be extremely high.
Adults hospitalized for flu infection end up spending around $18,000 for an average 6-day hospital stay. Children under 4 and adults over 85 tend to stay about 4-6 days in the hospital and can rack up a bill of around $12,400.
So getting vaccinated can potentially save you thousands of dollars by keeping you out of the hospital. And — bonus — most insurance plans cover the cost of a flu shot so it’s free.
If you don’t have insurance, expect to pay around $20 to $40 to get your flu shot at a pharmacy.
5. Protects the public
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“By getting a flu vaccine, you are not only protecting yourself, you are stopping the spread of the virus,” says Laura Haynes, PhD, a professor of immunology at the University of Connecticut Center on Aging.
This is because of herd immunity, which means that “the more people in the population who are immune to flu infection, the less likely it will be to spread easily.”
This may be particularly helpful to protect your older friends or relatives, who may be at greatest risk, Haynes says.
Building up herd immunity is also important to protect babies under 6 months old who cannot get the flu shot.
Cons of the flu shot
A flu vaccine can help keep you and your loved ones healthy, but it comes with some discomfort and can’t completely shield you from infection. Here are some of the cons that come with getting the flu shot.
1. Side effects of the flu shot
There are some side effects of the flu shot, but they tend to be mild and only last for 1 to 2 days. Some common side effects include:
- Low-grade fever
- Muscle aches
- Feeling nauseous
- Swelling, soreness, or redness around the area of the injection
Though the symptoms are similar to a very mild flu, “The vaccine can NOT give you the flu,” Haynes says, as it does not contain any live virus that could spread infection.
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“The only folks who should not get a flu vaccine are those that have had a severe reaction to one in the past,” Haynes says. Though allergic reactions to the flu shot are rare, if you develop symptoms like difficulty breathing or hives, you should get medical help immediately.
2. You may still get the flu
Getting a flu shot doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the flu. It takes about two weeks for your body to build up an immunity to the flu virus, leaving you vulnerable to infection during that time.
Moreover, 40% to 60% of people who get the flu shot may still become ill – but it can make your symptoms much milder.
The bottom line
Though the flu shot may come with some discomfort, it reduces your risk of serious illness or even death. Getting vaccinated can also help save you money on healthcare and help protect your community from infection. For the best protection, make an appointment to get a flu shot at the start of flu season during September or October.