10 Common Flu Shot Excuses—Debunked

It’s more important than ever to get a flu shot. Here’s why.

a young, masked, female patient receives a flu shot

Medically reviewed in March 2022

Updated on March 2, 2022

Amid the stress and information overload spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years—with news emerging continually about vaccines and boosters—you may have felt like it’s simply too much to worry about getting your seasonal flu vaccine. But the fact is, pandemic or not, COVID vaccine or not, the need to get your flu shot each year remains as urgent as ever.

We know that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is not the same as the viruses that may cause the seasonal flu. But both the flu and COVID-19 can cause serious complications, and having both infections at the same time can be quite dangerous.

Thankfully, the COVID vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna have proven to be safe and highly effective at reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing serious illness. Likewise, the seasonal flu vaccine is the single best way for nearly everyone to prevent the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Still, misconceptions about the flu shot persist. If you’ve relied on any of the following excuses in the past to skip your flu shot, it’s time to reconsider.

It's too late in the season to get one. Getting a flu shot early in the season offers the best protection, but the vaccination is offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later. Flu activity typically peaks in January or February and can last as late as May.

When is the best time to get your flu shot? Everyone 6 months and older should receive a flu vaccine by the end of October, if not earlier. Check with your healthcare provider (HCP) about when the flu shot will be available in your area and when to get it. 

I'm healthy so I don’t need the shot. The flu vaccine is especially important for people at high risk of experiencing complications from the flu—pregnant women, young children, older folks, and anyone with a compromised immune system. But the rest of us need it, too.

Getting the flu vaccine can help protect you from getting the flu or having a severe illness if you do get the flu. It can also help prevent you from spreading it to others, including the elderly or those with underlying health conditions who may not be able to effectively fight off an infection. Also, when you get the flu vaccine, you help protect those who should not receive it, such as infants younger than 6 months of age or people with certain health issues or allergies.

I had a flu shot last year so don’t need one this year. Good going, but you’ll still need to get another one this year. Researchers are working to develop a universal flu vaccine. For now, however, the flu shot is seasonal. This means it’s reformulated annually to protect against strains of the flu virus predicted to be most widespread in a given year.

The flu shot always makes me sick. The flu vaccine is made from dead or weakened viruses, so it can't make you sick with the flu. Some people may not feel well for a few days after getting the vaccine, with mild symptoms including a fever, headache, or fatigue. But these are the result of your immune system responding to the vaccine—and building protection to the flu— rather than from an actual infection with the flu.

If you do get sick with the flu after getting the vaccine, chances are you were exposed to the virus before getting the shot or you picked up a virus not covered by the vaccine. It can take up to two weeks to get full protection from the vaccine.

I live in a warm climate so the flu isn’t an issue for me. True, the flu virus spreads more easily when temperatures outside are cold or the air is dry, such as when you have the heat on inside. But you can still get the flu in a warm climate. The flu can be just as widespread in the balmy Southwest as it is in the frigid Northeast.

I got the flu shot last year, but still got the flu, so the vaccine doesn’t work. Occasionally this can happen, but the symptoms suffered are usually less severe when you get the flu shot. Also, the flu shot does not protect against every type of flu virus. It is formulated to offer protection against flu viruses predicted to be most prevalent that flu season.

The flu vaccine costs too much. Most insurance and other government-sponsored health care plans cover the flu vaccine. Some employers will give the flu shot to their employees for free, as will many local health departments. The cost of providing flu shots is much lower than the cost of treating severe flu complications that could result in hospitalizations—or even deaths.

I heard that it’s better to get the flu than to get a flu vaccine. The viruses that cause the seasonal flu can be very serious, especially for young children, older adults, those with chronic health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease), and those who have weakened immune systems. Any flu strain carries the risk of serious complications, hospitalization, or death.

Meanwhile, the most common side effects of the flu shot are relatively mild: soreness, redness or swelling in the area where the shot was given, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. The flu shot is a safer bet than getting the flu.

I’ve already had COVID-19 or gotten the COVID vaccine, so I should be protected. COVID-19 results from infection with the coronavirus, not an influenza virus. It will not provide protection from flu. And while the COVID vaccine protects against COVID-19, it does not offer protection against the flu (although scientists are working on developing a combination COVID/flu vaccine). The best way to avoid getting the seasonal flu is to get the flu vaccine every year.

I don’t want to risk leaving my home to get a seasonal flu vaccine. We’ve learned that receiving the COVID vaccine—combined with practices including social distancing and wearing face coverings—can greatly reduce the risk of acquiring COVID-19.

HCP offices, pharmacies, and other vaccination sites also follow protocols to help protect the safety of patients arriving for vaccinations. These measures include providing assigned appointment times for vaccines and arranging spaces to provide plenty of distance between patients.

In the meantime, getting the seasonal flu shot can protect you and those you love from getting seriously ill. If you do become infected with COVID-19, you don’t want to get the flu, too, which could increase your risk of serious illness.

There are some exceptions. Flu shots are off-limits for infants younger than 6 months. It’s also important to check with your HCP if you have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome, if you've had a severe reaction to the flu shot in the past, or if you're allergic to eggs (because the vaccine may contain egg protein), in which case you can get a different type of flu shot.

And if you’re hesitant to get the flu shot because you’re wary of an injection, talk to your HCP about whether you may be able to get the nasal spray flu vaccine instead.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Who Needs a Flu Vaccine. Page last reviewed: October 27, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent Seasonal Flu. Page last reviewed: November 18, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines. Page last reviewed: November 18, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2021-2022 Season. Page last reviewed: February 18, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine [LAIV] (The Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine). Page last reviewed: August 3, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Vaccine and People with Egg Allergies. Page last reviewed: December 10, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recombinant Influenza (Flu) Vaccine. Page last reviewed: October 21, 2021.

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