Pros and Cons of Getting a Flu Shot in 2023: Should You Do It?

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Flu season is upon us, which means it’s time to decide whether or not to get a flu shot. The flu shot contains a vaccine that helps protect against the flu, and it’s recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months.

Even though flu shots and nasal vaccinations are among the most sought-after seasonal treatments and widely regarded as safe and effective, there are a few things to consider when making the decision of whether or not to get a flu shot.

Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of getting a flu shot this season.

Types of flu shots

Injectable inactivated vaccines and nasally administered live attenuated vaccines are the two most common forms of flu shots.

Depending on the vaccine, it may provide protection against three different types of influenza (trivalent vaccines) or four different types of influenza (called quadrivalent vaccines). The list of approved vaccines changes every season, so it’s best to check it to see what flu shots are available.

Flu vaccination is recommended annually.

Since the influenza viruses that pose a hazard to humans are always adapting and changing, the vaccine only needs to be effective for one flu season. Despite this, getting vaccinated each year is still the best way to protect yourself from the flu.

It’s important to get a flu vaccination not just for yourself, but also to help prevent the spread of the disease to people who can’t get vaccinated. Herd immunity is a crucial phenomenon for preventing the spread of diseases to people who are unable to get vaccinated. So take the necessary influenza precautions and get vaccinated to help keep yourself and others healthy this season.

An Asian man getting vaccinated and having arm pain after a flu shot

Are flu shots safe?

The safety record of flu vaccinations is excellent. They’ve been around for nearly half a century, so you know they’re reliable. After more than 50 years of use, flu vaccinations have been shown to be safe for hundreds of millions of people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that the influenza vaccination, or flu shot, is the most effective approach to protect yourself and others from catching the flu. Although there is no 100-percent guarantee that getting a flu vaccination can prevent you from getting the flu, it may help lessen the intensity of your symptoms and get you back to health faster. So if you’re considering getting the flu vaccination, go for it!

Is it normal to have arm pain after a flu shot?

Some patients report pain or discomfort at the injection site in the upper arm or shoulder. Typically, the ache will go on its own. But in rare cases, vaccinations might cause severe and persistent shoulder discomfort.

Weakness and restricted movement of the afflicted arm are other common side effects.

Although these negative effects are certainly a drawback of the flu vaccination, it is generally agreed that they are much milder than the actual virus.

Flu shot pain is quite normal, and it goes itself in a day or two. But if the arm pain after a flu shot doesn’t resolve on its own, you should see your doctor.

Who should and should not get a flu shot

Most individuals can get flu vaccinations. There are vaccines designed for both children and adults. Vaccination against the flu with a typical dosage of the inactivated virus is safe and effective for infants as young as 6 months of age.

Even though it’s recommended that everyone gets a flu vaccination, it’s especially important for those who are at high risk for other health problems. This includes:

  • Young children
  • Pregnant women
  • Older adults
  • People with a weak immune system or a chronic illness

If someone in your life falls into one of these categories, consider getting a flu shot yourself. It can help protect them by lowering the chance that you’ll spread the flu to them.

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However, there are a few people who should not get a flu shot. If you have a severe allergy to any part of the vaccine (other than egg proteins), have had a serious reaction to the vaccine in the past, have had Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of a previous dose of flu vaccine, or are currently ill, be sure to tell your doctor about it. These may be the reasons not to get the flu shot.

Other ways to prevent flu

Going into the flu season, it’s important to take care of yourself and know how to protect yourself from the virus in addition to getting a vaccination. Here are some practical ways to stay healthy:

  • Wash your hands often and use hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Keep your distance from people who are sick.
  • Stay at home if you don’t feel well.
  • Sneeze and cough into a tissue or your elbow instead of your hand.
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects that you often touch, like your phone, to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly to boost your immune system.

Bottom line

The flu vaccination is not a guaranteed way to avoid the flu, but it can significantly reduce your chances of getting and spreading the virus. Annual vaccinations are still recommended, as protection against the flu can decrease over time. Those who are more likely to have serious complications from the flu, such as infants, the elderly, or people with preexisting medical conditions, can benefit greatly from getting the flu shot.

Also, because the influenza viruses evolve quickly, new strains of the virus are added to the vaccine every year. So even if you got the flu shot last year, you’ll need to get it again this year for optimal protection.

February 17, 2023