Influenza is a dangerous respiratory infection that takes the lives of tens of thousands of Americans each year. Still, many people question if obtaining a flu vaccine can put them at a higher risk than they might face if they attempt to battle the seasonal flu. While a small percentage of the population might be at risk of mild side effects, the flu shot is overwhelmingly safe and remains the most significant protective measure that you can take to protect yourself from getting sick this flu season.
Who Might be at Risk of Side Effects from the Flu Shot?
For the majority of individuals, the flu shot is extremely safe. Research repeatedly indicates that the vaccine, and its ingredients, are not likely to cause harm. Those who should not obtain the flu vaccine, however, include two small population segments:
- Children under six months of age
- Individuals who have reacted to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients
What’s in the Flu Vaccine?
The flu vaccine includes a variety of substances, both naturally occurring and chemically based, which could be allergens for some individuals. While some of the ingredients that follow may seem concerning, health organizations routinely verify that there are no indications that the substances, as used in the flu vaccine, put the majority of recipients at direct risk.
The flu shot contains:
- Killed strains of the flu vaccine or weakened live strains (LAIV) dispensed through a nasal spray.
- Egg protein, which is the result of growing the virus inside fertilized chicken eggs. An alternative version of the vaccine is produced in animal cells.
- The preservative thimerosal, which is typically added to multidose vaccine vials and contains mercury, which is only toxic in large doses. An alternative, thimerosal-free vaccine version is available.
- The stabilizers sucrose, sorbitol, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). While some individuals are sensitive to MSG, the small amount in the flu vaccine is not likely to cause issues for more people.
- Antibiotics such as neomycin and gentamicin.
- The emulsifier polysorbate 80, which can be reactive for some in large doses, though the amount in the vaccine is tiny.
- Formaldehyde, a natural compound, which is a gas soluble in water. While exposure in large doses can cause certain types of cancer, breathing difficulties, and eye and throat irritation, the CDC reports that the formaldehyde used in the flu vaccine is removed before packaging and distribution. The U.S Food and Drug Administration further says that any trace amounts in the vaccine are lower than the naturally occurring levels in the human body and do not pose a safety concern to vaccine recipients. Further, no evidence links the formaldehyde in the flu vaccine to cancer.
Can the Flu Vaccine Give You the Flu?
Some individuals’ most significant concern regarding the flu vaccine is that receiving it will cause virus contagion. While some people might experience mild flu-like symptoms after receiving the vaccine, obtaining the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu illness.
The CDC reaffirms every year that obtaining the flu shot is the best way to prevent contagion and to mitigate your risk of spreading it to others—including your loved ones. This flu season, with COVID-19 still threatening the population, talk to your doctor about your risks and whether you should obtain the vaccine. Your doctor will help you determine which version of the vaccine will be safest for you and help you stay protected from this dangerous seasonal illness.