September 19, 2017
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults say they get the flu vaccine each year or plan to get one in 2017, according to a July 2017 survey by Harris Poll on behalf of CVS Pharmacy.
About 2,000 Americans age 18 and older participated in the annual online survey. Compared to last year’s survey results, 2 percent more Americans surveyed said they get the vaccine annually or will get the vaccine this year (61 percent in 2017 versus 59 percent in 2016).
The U.S. government recommends everyone 6 months of age and older gets a flu vaccine each season before flu season is in full swing. Flu season in the U.S. runs October through May.
According to the 2017 survey, fall months are the most popular time for Americans who have gotten a flu shot in the past to get another one. Thirty-six percent said they get vaccinated in October, making it the most popular month for flu shots.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration decides which vaccine viruses can be included in the flu vaccines sold in the U.S. Flu viruses change, so flu vaccines may need to be updated to be effective.
“All 2017-18 influenza vaccines licensed in the U.S. will contain hemagglutinin (HA) derived from influenza viruses antigenically similar to those recommended by FDA,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hemagglutinin is a protein found on the surface of the influenza virus that helps the virus bind to cells and infect them. The goal of the flu vaccine is to stimulate the body’s immune system so that it builds antibodies that will protect the body if exposed to the virus in the future. The process of developing that protection in the body takes about two weeks.
Flu Vaccine Serious Side Effects and Risks
Although not so common, the flu vaccine can cause life-altering or even life-threatening reactions.
Flu vaccine risks include:
- Anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction that needs immediate medical attention and could be fatal.
- Shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA) – a deep, steady, severe pain in the shoulder and upper arm followed by weakness and sensory loss that can make it difficult to move the arm and/or shoulder and can cause the muscle to waste away.
- Vasovagal syncope – the most common cause of fainting and can lead to falling and significant injuries.
- Guillain-Barré Syndrome – a potentially life-threatening disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system and can cause total paralysis and death.
People should not get the flu vaccine if they have severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine, including gelatin and antibiotics. Another factor to consider is whether the person getting vaccinated has Guillain-Barré syndrome. In these cases, a doctor will be able to advise on the best course of action.
Vaccine Injury Compensation
The flu vaccine is fully covered and free through most insurance plans; however, injuries associated with the vaccine could amount to tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses. For example, SIRVA could require scans and the expertise of an orthopedic surgeon; vasovagal syncope could lead to a fall that results in a head injury.
To compensate people injured by the flu shot and other vaccines, the U.S. government established the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).
Anyone who faints within an hour of receiving the flu vaccine, suffers from anaphylaxis within four hours of vaccination, develops Guillain-Barré syndrome between three and 42 days of getting vaccinated or who experiences SIRVA within the first 48 hours may be eligible for compensation through VICP. The program is funded in part by an excise tax on the flu vaccine.
Other Ways Americans Protect Themselves from the Flu
Two in three — or 67 percent of — surveyed Americans who received a flu vaccine last year or plan to get one this year said getting the vaccine is the best way to prevent getting the flu. Even so, more Americans said they are taking other preventative actions to protect themselves from the flu.
- 41 percent of Americans regularly use hand sanitizer to stop the spread of germs (up 3 percent from last year)
- 55 percent of Americans report drinking more water to protect themselves from the flu (up 4 percent from last year)
- 50 percent of Americans say they are taking vitamins (up 4 percent from last year)
- 44 percent of Americans are eating more nutritious food (up 2 percent from last year)
- 43 percent are staying physically active (up 4 percent from last year)