DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I’m 28 and healthy. I’ve never gotten a flu shot and have never had the flu. Do I really need a flu vaccination? My employer is recommending it for everyone, but I’m hesitant. I’ve heard some people get sick from the actual vaccination.
ANSWER: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older be vaccinated every year against influenza. Being young and healthy does not protect you against getting the flu. Even someone like you, who has not had influenza in the past, should still get an annual flu vaccine. In some cases, people may develop minor flu-like symptoms after getting the vaccine. But the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.
Influenza is a viral respiratory infection that tends to come on suddenly. The influenza virus is a systemic virus. That means it circulates throughout the body in the bloodstream. Symptoms typically include fever, aching muscles, chills, sweats, headache, feeling tired and weak, coughing and nasal congestion.
Influenza can cause complications, such as sinus and ear infections, bronchitis and pneumonia. These complications, particularly pneumonia, can be especially dangerous in young children, pregnant women, older adults and people who have chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, epilepsy, kidney disease or liver disease, among others. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent influenza and its complications.
It is important to note, however, that even though young children and older adults are most vulnerable to complications from the flu, the severest forms of flu that we have seen have not affected those groups the most. Instead, the most infectious and serious strains of influenza — such as the strain that caused the 1918 worldwide pandemic — have more often affected young, healthy adults. Most cases of death associated with severe flu strains have been in younger adults who were otherwise healthy.