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Getting a flu shot? Here’s what you need to know. 

With all the discussion surrounding the coronavirus vaccine, it is easy to forget about another timely and life saving vaccine the influenza vaccine (lovingly referred to as the “flu shot”).  Every year during the fall, you likely see advertisements giving you information on where to get a flu shot. But there are a few key facts you need to know in order make smart choices regarding the flu shot.

1. What are the different types of flu vaccines?

There are several different categories and types of influenza, or “flu”, vaccines that exist.  But these can be easily broken down into two overall classifications — live vaccines and  inactivated vaccines. 

Live flu shots are known as “live attenuated vaccines”.  Attenuated is just a fancy way of saying “weakened”. These live vaccines  contain the actual virus you are trying to develop protection against.  The live flu vaccine works by introducing a weakened version of the influenza virus to your immune system so that your immune system can start defending itself against influenza infection.  There is only one live influenza vaccine on the market and it is an intranasal (goes into the nose) spray — brand name FluMist in the United States.  The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that certain patients should avoid the live flu vaccine such as patients  who are immunocompromised or with certain medical conditions

Inactivated flu vaccines are flu shots that do NOT contain a live or weakened version of the influenza vaccine. An example of this type of vaccine is a recombinant flu vaccine – Flublok.  Recombinant flu vaccines do not contain the influenza virus.  These types of vaccines also do not contain chicken eggs, which are used for live vaccines in their influenza vaccine production process. 

2. So why are there so many different types of flu shots?

Although you hear the influenza vaccine referred to as “The flu shot” there are actually a many different types of influenza viruses. There are actually 4 different types of influenza viruses – but the human seasonal ones we are most concerned about are Influenza A and Influenza B. These types are the two that cause the most human illness and what we know as “the flu season”.  

To further complicate things, there are also subtypes to these influenza viruses. Vaccines are are generated to target specific viruses, and since there are multiple subtypes, we need to make sure the vaccines can cover all these types.  This is where the terms “trivalent” (giving immunity against 3 different subtypes of influenza virus) and “quadrivalent” (giving immunity against 4 different subtypes of influenza virus) come into play. Between mixing and matching of live vs inactivated flu vaccines and coverage of different subtypes, there are a lot of options. 


3. Does one flu vaccine work better than another flu vaccine?

No, there is no one flu vaccine that is considered to “work better” than another.  However, because the efficiency of the immune system changes over time, there are some vaccines that may be preferred based on age group. Consult your healthcare provider to determine which flu vaccine is best for you based on your age. 

    4. Who should NOT get a flu vaccine?

    According to the Center for Disease Control, “everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season with rare exception. More information on who should and who should not get a flu vaccine is available.”


    5. Does the flu vaccine give you the flu?

    NO. – the flu shot does NOT give you the flu.  Some patients may experience side effects from the flu shot such as increased tiredness, pain at the injection site, fever, and chills – but these patients do NOT have the flu.


    6. Does the flu vaccine give you COVID-19?

    NO. – the flu shot does NOT give you COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus).  Some patients may experience side effects from the flu shot such as increased tiredness, pain at the injection site, fever, and chills – but these patients do NOT have COVID-19.


    7. Does the flu vaccine prevent you from getting COVID-19?

    NO. – there is no evidence to that indicates the flu shot will protect you against COVID-19.  As of the timing of this publication (November 2020), there is no FDA approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infections.


    8. When is flu season?

    Although the influenza virus is circulating all year long, the Center for Disease Control considers the Fall and Winter months “flu season”.  Cases of flu are especially elevated around December through February, times where it is often the coldest temperatures outside and folks tend to gather together in large groups indoors. 


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    This information is not medical advice and is solely for educational purposes. Consult your healthcare provider before making any health or medication decisions. Real Talk Health and it’s associates do not endorse/promote use of any medications or medical products mentioned on our website or blog posts or videos.