Should I Get a Flu Shot?

Flu Shot

Michael Jordan's performance against the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals was iconic, not just because clinched his team's victory in the final seconds, but because all game long he was suffering the fever, muscle aches, headaches and lack of mental focus caused by the flu.

As you probably know from firsthand experience, the flu is awful—and playing through it is not recommended—MJ's "Flu game" notwithstanding. Today's NBA teams—at least the ones I speak with—have a "shot day," when they vaccinate players, coaches, associates, and locker room attendants—everyone. You, your teammates, your parents, grandparents, siblings and friends should do the same. No one wants to spend three to five days in front of a porcelain bowl—and you just might save someone's life (in a bad year, as many as 49,000 people die from the flu and its complications).

You may be worried about side effects. And sure, the flu shot is not perfectly "safe"—almost nothing is 100% safe. But the vaccination is safer than getting the flu—which promotes inflammation throughout the body. The process of manufacturing the vaccines has improved—the formula no longer includes mercury. There's a new version called Flublock, which doesn't use eggs (good news for people who suffer from egg allergies). The shot can now be delivered with a micro-needle you don't feel as much. And a new nasal spray version is approved for healthy people ages 2 to 49 (but you can't be pregnant).

The evidence of substantial benefits versus harm of the shot is more than 400,000 to 1. If you placed that bet every year, you'd be a gazillionaire in no time.

For most people, most of the time, the flu shot works. Kids are the vectors that broadly transmit the flu to vulnerable populations. That's why getting yourself—and everyone in your family—vaccinated is so important. The shot does more than protect you from the flu. It protects others too, and we're not just talking about teammates or school friends. If you get the flu, you might transmit it to someone who is at high risk—anyone who has a respiratory condition (asthma, COPD), diabetes, or is over 65. Most deaths directly caused by the flu (and resulting pneumonia) are among people 65 and older—because the flu contributes to heart attacks, strokes and brain dysfunction.

This season, the flu shot and nasal spray combat four strains of influenza virus (usually it's three). And even if it's March or later, or you've already had one bout of the flu, it's still advantageous to get the shot. Remember: His Airness got sick during the Finals in June.

Dr. Mike Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz Dr. Mike Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz - Doctors Mike Roizen and Mehmet Oz, authors of four New York Times #1 bestsellers on health, entertain and educate athletes on choices that can make a big difference to their sports performance. The YOU Docs' ninth New York Times bestseller, "YOU: The Owner’s Manual for Teens," was published in June.
Become a Contributing Expert