Does the Flu Vaccine Carry Risks?

Does the Flu Vaccine Carry Risks?

Does the Flu Vaccine Carry Risks?


As flu season is upon us, some may wonder whether there are any risks associated with getting the flu vaccine. This is addressed in a recent New York Times Ask Well blog, which responds to a reader question that asks “Thirty-five years ago, my husband’s healthy college roommate died from a reaction to the swine flu vaccine. Neither of us has ever had a flu shot, preferring to take our chances with the illness, if we catch it. As healthy individuals in our late 50’s, is this sensible? Have the risks changed since 1977?”

The flu vaccine is available in two forms: a shot and a nasal spray. NYT reports that each carries small, and separate risks. With the flu shot, a patient is injected with a dead version of the virus. As such, the shot cannot give anyone the flu. There is however, a risk of allergic reactions with in people with egg allergies since it is grown in eggs.

Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, says the shot has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare nerve disorder, in a very small number of people. Individuals should seek professional advice if they developed the condition within 6 months of a previous flu shot. The flu shot also may cause a sore arm or a low-grade fever.

FluMist, the flu vaccine in the form of a nasal spray, does carry a small risk of flu infection because it contains the live virus. However, this risk mostly only applies to individuals with a weakened immune system. The spray should not be given to pregnant women, children younger than 2, people undergoing cancer treatment, frail elderly individuals and others who may be immunocompromised. In patients with asthma or recent wheezing, the nasal spray should also be avoided. FluMist should also not be given to children taking aspirin because it has been linked to Reye’s syndrome, an extremely rare condition that causes swelling of the liver and brain.

Based on years of research, there is no link between the mercury-based preservative thimerosal in vaccines and autism.

According to Dr. Doron, the risks of the flu “are much higher than the risks of the flu vaccine.” Flu vaccinations prevent the virus from spreading to people nearly, including infants and the elderly. “When you get the flu shot, it’s for yourself and it’s for everybody else,” said Doron, according to NYT.

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