Why Do Caregivers Need Flu Vaccines?

Flu vaccines are recommended for nearly everyone now, but there are some groups of people that need them more than others. People who are in high-risk groups, such as older adults, infants, and young children, those with chronic health conditions, and pregnant women are more likely to have serious complications if they get the flu, so vaccination is especially important.

What you may not realize is getting a flu vaccine if you care for someone in one of these high-risk groups is equally important.

Flu Shots for Caregivers

When you are caring for someone who is at a high risk for complications from the flu, you need to take every precaution you can to protect both the person you are caring for and yourself from illness. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. Although they aren't perfect, they offer the best protection possible against influenza.

If you think you will just avoid being around the high-risk individual while you are sick, it really doesn't work that way when it comes to the flu. You are actually contagious when you have influenza a full 24 hours before your symptoms appear. So you might feel fine, but you are already spreading the virus to the people around you.

Why It's Important

If you have ever been in a position to take care of someone in your personal life or in your professional life, you know it is a big responsibility. The decisions you make and the care you provide could make a significant difference in someone else's life. In some cases, it could be the difference between life and death.

The flu kills thousands of people each year and puts hundreds of thousands in the hospital in the United States alone. A simple flu vaccine could prevent that for the person or people that you care for.

Even if you are healthy and active and the flu is unlikely to cause you serious problems, that may not be the case for the person you are caring for. The flu can be debilitating for a person that is at high risk, causing complications such as bronchitis, sinus infections, and pneumonia. People with chronic conditions such as asthma and congestive heart failure can also be adversely affected if they contract the flu.

Health and Other Factors Known to Increase Risk of Flu-Related Complications

  • Asthma
  • Neurological conditions
  • Blood disorders
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders
  • People who are obese with a body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher
  • People under age 19 who are on long-term aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications
  • People with a weakened immune system due to disease (such as HIV/AIDS or cancers such as leukemia) or medications (such as chemotherapy, radiation, corticosteroids or other drugs that suppress the immune system)

What If It Doesn't Work for Me?

There are times when the flu vaccine is not as effective as we would like. Sometimes people who get the vaccine still end up with the flu. It's frustrating for everyone, but studies have shown that even when the vaccine is not a good match to circulating viruses, that people who have been vaccinated typically experience milder symptoms and a shorter duration of illness.

It's also important to know that the flu vaccine does not prevent every illness. It only prevents influenza. There are other respiratory and stomach viruses that circulate during the winter months that cause similar symptoms to the flu but are not caused by influenza. Fortunately for all of us, most of them are much less severe than influenza and typically don't lead to hospitalization or death.

Why Do I Need a Vaccine If the Person I'm Caring for Had One? 

Many people who are in high-risk groups can and should get the flu vaccine themselves. One of the few exceptions to this is infants under 6 months old. The flu vaccine is not approved for those under 6 months or anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to a flu vaccine or an ingredient in the vaccine in the past.

However, even those who can get vaccinated may not be fully protected against the flu with the vaccine. Older adults tend to have immune systems that don't function as well as they once did, making it harder for the body to develop an immune response to the strains of the flu that are included in the vaccine. This is the reason the high dose flu vaccine was developed for adults over the age of 65 in the U.S.

People that have chronic health conditions like asthma, heart disease, or cancer may also have weakened immune systems that do not respond as well to the flu vaccine as they would otherwise. Ensuring that you have your flu vaccine if you are caring for someone in a high-risk group adds another layer of protection to keep them as healthy as possible.

Caregivers of Young Children

Children under 6 months of age are especially at risk for serious flu complications that could require hospitalization. Because they're too young to be vaccinated against the flu, it's especially important for their caregivers and all other household members to get their flu vaccine each year. Not only will you be less likely to contract the flu, but you'll also reduce the risk of spreading it to these young children.

Additionally, it's important to keep young children away from sick people whenever possible and to avoid contact with the child if you do become sick. Wash your hands often with soap and water and cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. If possible, arrange alternative childcare if you do become sick.

Caregivers in the Workplace

There are some professions that put you at the front lines of caregiving. If you work in a health care facility, daycare, school, or you are a first responder, you are most likely around high-risk populations more frequently than other people. Many people in these professions are required to get flu shots, but even if your employer does not require it, you should still get yours, both for your own protection and to protect the people you work with.

A Word From Verywell

As you can see, getting your flu shot will not only greatly reduce the chance of you getting sick, it will also help to further protect people who may be more vulnerable to it because they can't get vaccinated. If you take care of someone in a high-risk population—whether it is your child, your parent, your spouse, another family member or a friend—or you work in a setting where you are around these people, get your yearly flu vaccine.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Deiss R, et al. Vaccine-associated reduction in symptom severity among patients with influenza A/H3N2 disease. Vaccine. 2015 Dec 16; 33(51): 7160–7167. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2015.11.004

Additional Reading