The flu kills thousands of people each year. By getting the flu vaccine, individuals can not only protect themselves but those around them. Still, some may wonder whether there are health risks associated with flu vaccinations. A recent New York Times Ask Well blog addressed these concerns in response 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 can be given as a shot or as a nasal spray, each with its own small risks. With the flu shot, a patient is injected with a dead version of the virus so there is no risk of being infected with the flu. Since the vaccine is grown in eggs, however, there is a risk of allergic reactions in people with egg allergies. According to Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and associate hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, the shot has also been linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare nerve disorder, in a very small number of people. If an individual developed the condition within 6 months of a previous flu shot, they should seek medical advice before getting another one. Patients who receive the flu shot may experience a sore arm and a low-grade fever.
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.
The flu vaccine available as a nasal spray is FluMist. Individuals with a weakened immune system be at risk for flu infection with FluMist because it contains a live virus.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. The nasal spray may worsen respiratory conditions, and should not be given to people with asthma or recent wheezing. 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.
Years of research show there is no link between the mercury-based preservative thimerosal in vaccines and autism.