10 Common Flu Shot Excuses—Debunked

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

African American woman watches with a smile as the doctor puts a bandaid on her shoulder after a vaccine shot

Updated on September 28, 2022.

The stress and information overload spawned by the pandemic—with a seemingly constant stream of news about vaccines and boosters—you may feel like the flu shot is not something you want to think about. But the fact is, carving out a few minutes in your schedule to get a seasonal flu shot remains as important—and simple—as ever.

COVID and the flu are caused by different viruses, but they can both cause severe illness and serious complications. Having both infections at the same time can also be very dangerous.

The good news: There are safe and highly effective vaccines to help protect against both infections. Getting immunized is the single best way to protect against serious disease and save lives, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions.

The flu vaccine has been around for many decades, but misconceptions about the seasonal 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.

Excuse: It's too late. Flu activity usually starts to pick up in October and peaks between December and January but can last until May. It's true, getting a flu shot earlier in the season offers the best protection, but the vaccination will continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later.

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 possible. Adults, especially those 65 years and older, should generally not get vaccinated too early (such as in September) because protection may decrease over time.

Check with your healthcare provider (HCP) about when the flu shot will be available in your area and when to get it. If you are not able to get the shot until November or later, vaccination is still recommended.

Excuse: I'm healthy. The flu vaccine is especially important for high-risk people—pregnant people, young kids, those older than 65, and anyone with a compromised immune system. But everyone eligible can benefit from being immunized.

Getting the flu vaccine can help protect you from getting the flu and spreading it to others, including older adults 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 are not able to receive it, such as infants younger than 6 months old or people with certain health issues or allergies.

Excuse: I had a flu shot last year. Good going! But you’ll still need to get another one this year. Researchers are working to develop a universal flu vaccine. But for now, the flu shot is seasonal. That means it’s reformulated annually to protect against strains of the flu virus predicted to be most widespread each season.

Excuse: 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 against the flu rather than from an actual infection with the flu.

If you do get sick, chances are you were exposed to the flu 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.

Excuse: I live in a warm climate. It’s true that the flu virus spreads more easily when temperatures outside are cold (and more people are gathering indoors) or the air is dry, such as when you have the heat running indoors. But you can still get sick in a warm climate. The flu can be just as widespread in the sunny Southwest as it is in the frigid Northeast.

Excuse: I got the flu shot last year, but still got the flu, so the vaccine doesn’t work. Occasionally people who got the flu shot, end up getting the flu. But shot likely still provided protection, resulting in a milder infection. So, the symptoms you may experience are usually less severe if got the flu shot. Also, remember that the flu shot does not protect against every type of flu virus. It is formulated to offer protection from flu viruses predicted to be most prevalent that flu season.

Excuse: The flu vaccine costs too much. Most insurance and other government-sponsored healthcare 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.

Excuse: 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 and short-lived, lasting only a day or two. These include 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, which can cause symptoms that last for several days—or longer if you’re infection is more severe.

Excuse: I had COVID, so I should be protected. COVID results from infection with variants of the coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2. And while the COVID vaccine protects against this disease, it does not offer protection against the flu. Although scientists are working on developing a combination COVID/flu vaccine, for now, the best way to avoid getting the seasonal flu is to get the flu vaccine every year.

And if you get re-infected with COVID, you don’t want to also get the flu. This could increase your risk of serious illness. You can even get a COVID vaccine and your flu shot at the same time. It's not just about you. Getting a flu shot can protect your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and others from getting sick, too.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Habits to Help Protect Against Flu. Aug 26, 2021.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza Historic Timeline. Jan 30, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Season. Sep 20, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2022-2023 Season. Sep 12, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People at Higher Risk of Flu Complications. Sep 6, 2022.
Mayo Clinic. Flu shot: Your best bet for avoiding influenza. Sep 10, 2021.
Harvard Medical School. 10 Flu Myths. Oct 1, 2020.
USC Arcadia Hospital. Can You Get the Flu in Warm Weather Climates? Nov 27, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How to Pay for Vaccines. Mar 31, 2017.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Vaccine Safety Information. Aug 25, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basics of COVID-19. Nov 4, 2021.

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