The vaccine does not directly cause flu, although my sister, and maybe someone you know as well, has claimed they got it from the shot. The viruses in the shot are killed, not live, and cannot get you sick. But because it only protects you from three, there are many others from among more than 200 that can slip by.
“It’s not possible to predict with certainty which flu viruses will predominate during a given season,” admits the CDC. “Flu viruses are constantly changing (called “antigenic drift”) — they can change from one season to the next or they can even change within the course of one flu season.”
Or you can get a bug before you get the shot or during the two weeks it takes your immune system to kick in. Sometimes a cold feels much like a flu, with severe aches and congestion; usually a fever is what tells you it’s flu, not just a cold. Sometimes it really is hard to tell. “Stomach flu” is not influenza but caused by another virus, or bacteria.
Some people react to the flu shot with a mild fever and weakness for a couple of days. Sometimes people with very weak immune systems can get the flu in spite of the shot, but the CDC claims it will minimize the symptoms.
There may also be soreness at the injection spot, especially with the new smaller needle-vaccines out now. Those are helpful for those of us afraid of big needles, as is the nasal spray, although only recommended for those under 50. Although it contains live viruses, they are weakened and can’t live in the cooler temperatures of your nose.
Flu shots are easy to find. If not from your own doc, you’ll find them in pharmacies, health centers, walk-in clinics and often at work or school. If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can help shorten it and decrease symptoms and complications.
I’m still on the fence about whether to get the shot or not. I’ve never had the flu (knock on wood) or a flu shot, but I probably should.