Five Reasons to Get a Flu Shot

Stop putting if off—a Brigham and Women's doctor says it really is necessary.


Don’t let this be you. Flu photo via Shutterstock

Let’s start with the obvious: Nobody likes getting shots. Whether it’s a phobia of needles, a low pain tolerance, or just a lack of time, there are lots of reasons you might not be psyched about getting a flu shot this fall, but the fact is, it’s really important. To prove it, we asked Dr. Paul Sax, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, why you should get vaccinated this season.

1. There’s no fool-proof way to predict or prevent the flu.

“The flu virus is indiscriminate. It can strike both the healthy and sick, and the young and the old,” Sax says. “It’s important to be vaccinated not only to protect our own health, but also to protect those around us. No one wants to be responsible for spreading an illness to their friends, family, co-workers, or patients.” The bottom line: Hand washing and eating plenty of vitamin C just aren’t good enough.

2. You won’t get sick after vaccination.

“You cannot get the flu from a flu vaccine,” Sax says. “Almost all people who get the influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it.” The most common side effects, he says, are simple soreness, redness, itching, swelling, or a low-grade fever, all of which should pass quickly and can be managed with over-the-counter painkillers. Allergic to eggs? There’s now an egg-free version of the vaccine.

3. Getting the flu once doesn’t mean you won’t get it again.

“Last year’s vaccine may not protect you from this year’s virus, so it is important to get a flu vaccine every year,” Sax stresses. “Flu vaccines work by triggering your immune system to produce antibodies that protect against a certain virus. Generally, the level of these antibodies decline over time.” Translation? Just because you were sick as a dog last year doesn’t mean you’re immune this year, unfortunately.

4. It’s free.

Sax says you don’t need to see your doctor to get a shot, which means it’s an option even if money (or time) is tight. Many pharmacies, workplaces, and colleges offer flu shots free of charge, so be on the lookout. The Boston Public Health Commission also keeps this handy calendar of free flu shot clinics.

5. The flu can be a serious illness.

Since the flu is so widespread every year, it’s easy to develop a cavalier attitude and think of it as a slightly more uncomfortable cold. Sax says that’s not the case. “Everyone who is at least six months of age should get a flu vaccine, but it is especially important for certain people to get vaccinated,” he says. “Studies show that those with asthma, diabetes, chronic lung disease, people younger than 5 and older than 65, and pregnant women are at higher risk of developing serious complications from the flu.” And it’s not just those groups—anybody who gets the flu is at risk for complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections.