The flu shot is one of the most controversial vaccines available right now. Despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention insist it’s the best way to prevent the illness, many still don’t believe it’s worth the trouble. In fact, some statistics say that over half of the United States population avoids the vaccine each year, even after hearing tragic stories of people who have died from influenza or about cases of the particularly scary Australian flu (aka the “Aussie flu” that has been wreaking havoc on Australia in recent months and has spread to much of the U.K.).
So will the flu shot prevent the Aussie flu? The short answer is: It should but may not (though in the end it’s still probably worth getting). To better understand this admittedly murky answer, let’s look at the basics.
What does the flu shot actually do?
Here’s the deal: The vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after the injection, and these antibodies help your immune system protect against the flu. Basically, you’re getting injected with a very small dose of something that will make your body think it has a minor flu, teaching your system how to fight the “real” flu should you become exposed.
The seasonal flu vaccine changes based on what doctors and researchers believe will be the most common in the upcoming season. They are typically made up of three flu virus strains. This year, you may have heard that the Aussie flu could pose a serious threat to the U.S. — and the good news is the Aussie flu strain is included in this year’s flue vaccine. However, the Aussie flu is infamously good at adapting to vaccines, so there’s still a chance you could become infected even after getting a flu shot.
If that doesn’t seem encouraging enough to get a shot this year, remember that the Aussie flu isn’t the only strain you could get, and that the CDC reports that the flu shot will reduce your overall risk of catching the flu by 10-60%. And if you’ve ever suffered from influenza for a week, then you know that any chance of not getting it is better than nothing.
If you’re at all concerned with potential side effects, the CDC says while they can include mild soreness or swelling at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea, and muscle aches (basically, a super mild version of the actual flu), they only last a day or so and are much less severe than the real thing.
What you do with your body is a personal decision, so it’s up to you whether you get the flu shot or not. Just know that the CDC and doctors strongly recommend the flu shot as the best way to prevent the virus — including the Aussie flu. And never hesitate to talk to your own doctor to get their opinion before making a decision.