Who Should Not Get a Flu Shot

Most people should receive the flu vaccine, but not all

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that pretty much everyone get a flu shot. However, there are certain groups of people for which the flu shot is not advised or who need to go over the pros and cons of a flu vaccine with their healthcare providers first. For these people, the vaccine may pose significant risks and even be life-threatening.

Given the fact that the flu shot is the most effective method of preventing infection, it's important to know if you truly fall into a group of people who should not get a flu vaccine. If you don't, commit to getting your flu shot each year for your own protection and to protect the people around you.

This article will explain who should not get a flu shot. You will also learn what you can do to stay safe during flu season if you cannot get an influenza vaccine.

Who Should Not Get a Flu Shot?

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

Who Should Not Get a Flu Shot?

The following individuals should not get a flu shot:

  • Infants younger than 6 months old: Babies do not yet have a fully functioning immune system that is able to produce the desired response from the vaccine.
  • Those who have had a previous life-threatening allergic reaction to the flu vaccine or its components (such as gelatin)
  • Anyone with a very high fever or who was recently admitted to the hospital at the time of vaccination (later vaccination may be appropriate)

Flu Shot Contraindications

If you have any of the following conditions or circumstances, you might wonder if they are reasons not to get a flu shot. You should discuss the pros and cons of getting a flu vaccine with your healthcare provider if you have:

Also, be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you are feeling ill at the time of your flu shot appointment and what symptoms you have. Postponing your vaccination may be advised.

The flu vaccine is considered safe for pretty much everyone else, but if you have concerns or questions, discuss them with your healthcare provider.

Should I Get a Flu Shot If I Have a Medical Condition?

You might wonder if you should not get a flu vaccine if you have a chronic health condition or are otherwise concerned about your overall health.

Unless you fit into the above categories for which flu vaccination is/may be contraindicated, you might be one of the people who need the flu shot the most.

If you are in a high-risk group, getting the seasonal flu vaccine is actually very important as you may be at a higher risk of having severe complications from a bout of influenza.

People who are considered high risk include:

  • Older adults: As you age, your immune system weakens and is less able to mount a defense against the influenza virus, putting you at risk of severe complications. The majority of hospitalizations and deaths from the seasonal flu are those aged 65 and over.
  • Children: Children younger than 5 years old, and especially those younger than 2 years old, are in the high-risk group for flu complications. These result in as many as 25,000 hospitalizations in a flu season for those under age 5, and over 150 deaths. Children with neurologic conditions are at even greater risk.
  • Asthma: Even if you have well-controlled asthma, you have sensitive airways and the influenza virus can provoke a severe asthma attack or pneumonia. It is the most common factor in children hospitalized for influenza, and a leading factor in adult hospitalizations for influenza.
  • Heart disease: Almost half of the adults hospitalized for influenza complications in the 2018 to 2019 flu season had heart disease. Having heart disease increases the risk of flu complications, and influenza raises the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
  • Pregnancy: During pregnancy and immediately after giving birth, your immune system has been altered in ways that lead to an increased risk of flu complications. As well, if you get a high fever from the flu, it can harm the developing fetus.
  • Cancer: You are at higher risk for flu complications if you currently have cancer or were treated in the past for leukemia or lymphoma. You are more likely to have a weakened immune system due to cancer treatments or the effects of cancer itself.
  • People in long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and hospices: People in these facilities are at higher risk of flu complications, and influenza has been known to spread easily through these facilities.

Getting a Flu Shot to Protect Others

While some people are medically advised not to get a flu shot, others choose not to get one for personal reasons such as a fear of needles or unfounded concerns over ingredients like thimerosal. Some people do not get a flu shot because they believe that "they never get sick" or are healthy enough to quickly bounce back if they do get the flu.

It is true that flu vaccines do not provide 100% protection from the flu for everyone that gets one. The flu vaccine is 40% to 60% effective in most years. Still, despite their relatively low prevention rate, they are still the best option to protect yourself from the flu.

Flu Vaccine Effectiveness in 2022

The annual flu vaccine's effectiveness varies from flu season to flu season. As an example, the flu shot for the 2021-2022 flu season has not been as effective as previous vaccines.

According to the CDC, early data from the season showed that the vaccine was only about 16% effective at preventing people from getting a mild-to-moderate case of influenza.

For comparison, the 2019-2020 flu vaccine was about 39% effective.

Remember that getting the flu vaccine also helps protect those around you, which is especially important for individuals at high risk of complications and for whom a flu shot is contraindicated.

Getting the flu vaccine is not just for your own benefit, but for the protection of people, like the caregivers of infants, adults over age 65, cancer patients, or anyone else in a high-risk group.

Those who work in big-group settings (schools, daycare centers, nursing homes, hospitals, etc.) should also be sure to get vaccinated against the flu.

What to Do During Flu Season if You Can't Get Vaccinated

If you are unable to get a flu shot (and even if you are), doubling down on other prevention strategies that can go a long way in helping you stay well during flu season:

  • Wash your hands: Other than getting a flu vaccine, washing your hands frequently is the single most effective thing you can do to prevent the flu and stay healthy. Make sure you are doing it properly, so you get the full benefit and actually get the germs off your hands.
  • Avoid touching your face as much as possible: If you touch your face, eyes, nose, or mouth after you have touched anything that has germs on it (doorknob, computer keyboard, phone, another person, etc.), you are introducing those germs into your body.
  • Steer clear of sick people: As much is realistic, keep your distance if someone around you is exhibiting symptoms of a cold or the flu.

If you do have symptoms of influenza, tell your healthcare provider right away—especially if you are at high risk for complications from the flu or you live with someone who is. Antiviral medications can be prescribed to reduce the severity of your symptoms and the duration of your illness, as well as reduce the chance that you pass it to someone else.

Summary

Getting a yearly flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from influenza. That said, there are some people who should not get a flu shot. If you are not able to get an influenza vaccine (for example, because you have a medical condition that makes getting vaccinated contraindicated) there are other steps you can take to stay safe during flu season.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who should not get a flu shot?

    Babies younger than six months old, people who have had a life-threatening reaction to a flu shot in the past, and people who are currently very sick with a high fever should not get a flu shot.

    People with an egg allergy or a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) after getting a vaccine may not be able to get certain flu vaccines.

  • Are there reasons not to get a flu shot if I'm pregnant?

    If you're pregnant, you are at a higher risk of having severe illness and complications if you get sick with the flu. The flu vaccine is very safe for pregnant people and is recommended in most cases. Not only does getting a flu shot protect you, but it can also help protect your baby after they are born.

    If you are not sure if you should get a flu shot while pregnant, talk to your provider.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.