Articles, Blog

Are flu shots safe?

November 11, 2019

Why in the world would I get a flu shot?
Until a few days ago, I hadn’t. It’s a bit of an embarrassing admission for a public health professor, I must admit. But the current influenza epidemic –
along with some prompting from this week’s script editor Hillary Craddock – got me thinking: why do I find it so
easy to do nothing, when all the advice is to just go out and get a shot? It’s not as if i’m worried about the
risk of complications – this is pretty insignificant for someone like me. But like many, my default position is to
sit on my backside and do nothing until I need to. And I’m great at rationalizing this: I hate taking unfamiliar meds unless I
absolutely have to – even the occasional Advil is a tough
call! I’ve never been hit by a serious bout
of flu – why tempt fate? I don’t personally know anyone whose life has been threatened by the flu. And on top of all that, I’m told that the
current vaccine is only around 60% successful at preventing infection So why get a shot? Surely I’m okay just
doing nothing. Right? Well, maybe not. Influenza is miserable at best and life-threatening at worst. This is not
just a bad cold. And despite my fantasies, I am not
immune. What’s worse – if the flu gets me, I
become a carrier, spreading the nasty little virus around to friends and
colleagues. And that 60% protection rate?
Those are actually pretty good odds for avoiding something as
unpleasant as this year’s strains of the disease. In other words, the evidence indicates
that my arguments for not getting a flu shot are pretty lame. Ouch! Clearly, it’s time to put my risk-money
where my risk-mouth is and take the plunge. Which is why I found myself doing my bit
for the heard immunity last week and getting myself vaccinated. But did I get that shot because i
was convinced by the evidence or because i was shamed into it? I’ll swear blind by the former if asked.
Just don’t expect to me to prove it! For more information on this year’s
flu, check out the links in the video blurb below, and stay well!


  • Reply Koppa Dasao January 29, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Why in the world would I get one? What's the chance of getting the flu? And what's the chance of complications from getting the flu?

    If high chance of getting the flu and chance of complications from getting the flu then 60% of protection is good.
    If low chance of getting the flu, then what's the diff?

  • Reply Risk Bites January 29, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    The chances of getting the flu vary with season, where you live, how old you are, what you do and various other factors – as do the chances of serious complications if you do get the flu. According to, around 5% – 10% of the US population get the flu each year – although the source of these figures isn't given. A shot would more than half this chance of infection. Plus, the spread of the disease is reduced.

  • Reply Koppa Dasao January 29, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    So overall we are talking about a 5-10% chance of getting the flu without the vaccine and 2-4% with the vaccine. For the population as a whole, that's a positive reduction, but what about for each person? What's the math on choosing the vaccine vs. not choosing it, on a personal level?

  • Reply Smxc January 29, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Could you do a herd immunity video?

  • Reply Risk Bites January 29, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    Thanks @dasanjos. Maybe some more number crunching in another video – part of the challenge is deciding what story to tell in 2 minutes and sticking to it!

  • Reply Risk Bites January 29, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    @Koppa Dasao – that sounds like a topic for another video – I'm bringing in a decision analysis expert who may want to take it on.

  • Reply Risk Bites January 29, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    @kingkrazy0wns – I'll see what I can do with a herd immunity video. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Reply Koppa Dasao January 29, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Sounds interesting. I've so far dropped the vaccine…

  • Reply wh250 January 30, 2013 at 2:46 am

    This was not a risk assestment.

  • Reply Risk Bites January 30, 2013 at 11:17 am

    @wh250 – You're right, it wasn't. But I hope it did shed some light on the risk decision-making process.

  • Reply Skip Tindle March 2, 2013 at 5:35 am

    Everyone one I know that got a flu shot got the flu, all of us that did not get a shot did not get the flu. I say no to a flu shot thank you.

  • Reply Ddot Cdot August 4, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Everyone I know that caught the flu bad had flu shots.  I told them not to take the shot again and the one guy I kept up with didn't catch it again.  Plus the flu shot only protects against 3 strains of the flu and there are thousands….  Eat healthy, be healthy, say no to GMOs

  • Reply Primo Knoxville November 3, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Tell us why mercury is in the flu vax .

  • Reply Colibri November 13, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Looks like you are talking about me!! Lol!
    Ok I have seen enough videos so I will get the shot!!!

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