The Truth About Flu Shots


**Editor’s Note: This article is based on current recommendations and research from the CDC. We encourage everyone to consult their doctor when making personal health decisions.

I got my flu shot in a Target CVS this year. I went in to pick up my insulin from the pharmacy, and when the pharmacist asked if I’d like to get a flu shot I agreed. I’d been meaning to anyway.

Within 2 minutes I’d filled out the necessary paperwork and she gave me the injection. Unfortunately, she hit a vein – when she took the needle out, blood was dripping down my arm right in the middle of a public area of Target. The pharmacist was embarrassed and worried that I’d be upset, but with 15 years as a Type 1 diabetic under my belt, this felt like a pretty average day. I laughed, thanked her, and left with a $5 gift card. A win-win, because I know how important it is to get a flu shot as a T1D.

No doubt, your healthcare professional has urged you to get a flu vaccine. In the United States, flu vaccines are recommended for everyone over 6 months old – but if you have diabetes, getting vaccinated is especially important (CDC). Dr. Marina Basina, an endocrinologist at Stanford explains that “If a person with diabetes gets the flu, it becomes much more difficult to manage blood sugars — any infection will elevate blood sugars and increase variability in the readings and resistance to insulin. On the other hand, fevers, sweats and poor appetite may lead to low blood sugars, or ketone formation even in the setting of normal blood sugars. Furthermore, DKA is more frequent in the setting of flu even when blood sugars are not significantly elevated.”

Flu shots are a safe, inexpensive and effective way to lower your risk of getting sick. One study found that flu vaccination is associated with a 79% lower rate of hospitalizations for flu-related complications among people with diabetes. Still, many people have hesitations about getting vaccinated. Here are some of those questions, answered.

I’ve heard that it’s important for me to get a flu shot as a Type 1 diabetic. Why?

  • Managing diabetes while sick with the flu is a total nightmare. If you can’t eat or are vomiting, you’re at risk for low blood sugars and may have difficulty treating them. At the same time, blood sugars can run high because the immune system is fighting infection or because of dehydration associated with illness — putting you at a higher risk of developing ketones and needing of medical assistance.
  • Additionally, people with diabetes (Type 1 and 2) are at a higher risk of developing flu complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections that can lead to hospitalization.

Do I really have to get a flu shot every year?

Yes! There are many strains of the influenza virus that are constantly changing, so in order to be effective, the vaccines used change every year.

I got a flu shot but I still got sick. Flu shots don’t work!

Again, this has to do with the many different strains of influenza virus that change constantly. Seasonal flu shots can’t cover every flu variety. So yes, you can still get sick if you get a flu shot — but you’re considerably decreasing your odds of getting sick during flu season by getting one, typically by 50-60%.

I feel sick after getting the flu shot.

Importantly, getting a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. Flu shots consist of inactivated flu virus or, in recombinant vaccines with no virus at all. Some people do experience mild side effects after getting a flu shot including soreness where the shot was given, low grade fever, headaches and achiness. These side effects are minor and brief considering the severity of getting sick with the flu for someone with diabetes.

While flu shots are an effective step an individual can take to protect themselves, vaccines are most effective when everyone gets them. By getting vaccinated for the flu, you are protecting not only yourself but everyone you come in contact with. Have a safe and healthy flu season!

*For more information on vaccine safety, the CDC has extensive resources and documentation.

Read Cold and Flu and What to Do.

WRITTEN BY Dana Howe, POSTED 10/12/16, UPDATED 09/29/20

Dana has a Masters degree in Health Communication from Tufts University and studied biology and community health as an undergraduate. Her public health interests are inspired and informed by living with Type 1 diabetes since being diagnosed in 2002. Aside from working in health and T1D, she’s skiing, biking, hiking, or cooking elaborate breakfasts. Dana is the Social Media Manager at Beyond Type 1. Follow her on Twitter @daneyhowie or Instagram @danahowe.