Family Health

Flu Shot FAQ – What You Need to Know

Oct 27 • 2016

Flu season has returned and many people continue to have questions about the flu shot. Because there are so many misconceptions around the vaccine and its effectiveness, we wanted to set the record straight. Below are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

Anyone six months or older should get the vaccine annually. Ideally, the flu shot should be given by the end of October – however, it is okay to be vaccinated later in the season. The number of doses needed for an individual varies depending, so it’s important to speak with your health care provider for more information.

Does the flu shot contain mercury?

“Flu shots contain thimerosal, an ethyl mercury-based preservative if in a vial,” said Dr. Mark Castellaw. “However, the single dose shots do not.”

These preservatives are necessary to protect vaccines that are packaged in multi-dose vials because each time a dose is drawn, bacteria has the ability to enter into the vial. If contaminated with this bacteria, the vaccine can become dangerous. Using preservatives prevents that contamination. Most flu shots are single-dose only, so the thimerosal is not necessary.

How effective is the flu shot?

The flu varies with each year and it is impossible to predict the timing, severity, and length of the season. “It’s too early to tell yet for effectiveness – every year it is a guess,” said Dr. Castellaw. However, getting vaccinated is still a very important step in protecting yourself against the flu. Even if new strains develop that the vaccine is not a perfect match for, it will provide some protection.

Will the flu shot give me the flu?

“By far the biggest misconception is that the flu shot gives you the flu,” said Dr. Castellaw. “This is not true, no more than a tetanus shot will give you tetanus.” You may experience some side effects, including:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling around the injection area
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Muscle aches

If you are not yet vaccinated, consider scheduling an appointment for your flu shot today. “The flu vaccine saves lives,” said Dr. Castellaw. “Unless you have a contraindication from your doctor, everyone should get a shot.”