4 Reasons to Get Your Flu Shot

Learn why you shouldn’t wait to get your seasonal vaccines.

man getting vaccinated

Updated on September 11, 2023.

As the days grow shorter and cooler, it’s time to act against a seasonal threat: influenza. Protect yourself and others by getting a flu shot. 

In recent years, more than 6.9 million people around the world died from COVID, including more than one million in the United States. Flu, by comparison, may seem like no big deal—especially if you are relatively young and healthy. This is a common misconception. The flu claims thousands of lives each year, and should be taken seriously. The best way to help keep this seasonal virus in check—and protect yourself as well as those around you—is to get vaccinated.

Overall, flu immunity might still be lower than usual since fewer people than caught the virus during the pandemic than in typical years since preventative precautions were in place, like masking and physical distancing.

Need more convincing? Here’s why you should roll up your sleeve:

Flu (and COVID) are highly contagious

It’s true. COVID is still circulating. Omicron descendants—particularly the subvariants called EG.5 and FL1.5.1—account for more than 99 percent of new infections in the United States. As of September, COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations are on the rise. 

COVID generally spreads more quickly and easily than the flu but both infections are highly contagious. They also spread from person to person in similar ways. These viruses can be transmitted through direct contact, contaminated droplets or through the air in aerosols—particles even smaller than respiratory droplets that may waft and accumulate.

Most people with flu are contagious for about one day before they even develop symptoms of the infection. Older kids and adults with the flu are most contagious after three to four days but may still pass the infection to others for about seven days. People wiht COVID may spread the infection from about two days before symptoms appear until about 10 days afterward. People with COVID may remain contagious for up to 10 days after testing positive even if their symptoms ave resolved (or they never developed symptoms). Those with very severe COVID and those who are immunocompromised may remain infectious for up to 20 days or more.

The flu can be deadly

Like COVID, a person’s chance of dying from the flu varies, depending on certain risk factors, like their age, health and whether they are vaccinated. Variables among countries, such as population demographics and the quality of health care, also influence estimates on mortality rate.

A severe flu season still has a death rate of about 0.1 percent, according to a March  2020 editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine. That’s many lives affected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that between 2010 and 2020, the flu has resulted in up to 41 million infections, up to 710,000 hospitalizations and up to 52,000 deaths each year.

In most cases, people with the flu will recover within a couple of weeks. But some people—particularly older people, very young children, and those with underlying health issues—are more likely to develop potentially deadly complications such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle, sepsis or organ failure.

Safe and effective vaccines are available

There are vaccines available to help protect against the flu, as well as COVID and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which also tends to spread in the fall and winter months. 

Flu vaccines can be 40 to 60 percent effective at preventing illness and keeping people out of the hospital when circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the vaccines.

It’s true: sometimes people who get the flu shot are still infected with the virus. This can happen due to certain factors, including a person’s unique biological characteristics, the flu viruses in circulation (and whether the flu vaccine is a close match to these predominant strains) as well as the type of flu vaccine used.

Studies show, however, that getting the flu vaccine can still help reduce the severity of the infection and help prevent flu-related complications. In short, if you get the shot and still do get the flu, it may not be as bad.

And if that’s not enough motivation to get vaccinated, consider this: getting immunized will also protect the more vulnerable people around you, including babies, older people, pregnant women, and those with chronic health conditions.

Other ways to protect yourself

Aside from getting vaccinated, there is a lot you can do to avoid exposure and reduce your risk of infection to both the flu and other repiratory infections, including:

  • Wear a face mask in crowded indoor spaces, particularly those with poor ventilation
  • Practice physical distancing or stay at least 6 feet away from others
  • Wash your hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching any part of your face, including your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid contact with people who have suspected or confirmed infections
Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “COVID Data Tracker.” Accessed Nov 15, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report.” Nov 6, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Weekly National Flu Vaccination Dashboard.” Nov 3, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Interim Guidance on Ending Isolation and Precautions for Adults with COVID-19.” Mar 16, 2021.
Johns Hopkins. “Coronavirus Resource Center. Mortality Analyses.” Sep 13, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Disease Burden of Influenza.” Jun 11, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do Flu Vaccines Work?” Aug 26, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “COVID-19 Vaccine Breakthrough Case Investigation and Reporting.” Sep 10, 2021.
Anthony S. Fauci, MD, H. Clifford Lane, MD, and Robert R. Redfield, MD “Covid-19 — Navigating the Uncharted.” New England Journal of Medicine. Feb 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Flu Symptoms & Complications.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Key Facts About Influenza (Flu).”
World Health Organization. “Rolling updates on coronavirus disease (COVID-19).”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios.” Sept 10, 2020.

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