This post is reviewed and updated each year in time for the U.S. flu season. It was first published October 3, 2019.
Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine. If you are a person with cancer, a survivor, or a caregiver, the flu could be even more dangerous for you or your loved ones. If you have any questions, talk with your doctor about the vaccine. Make sure you get your flu shot this fall!
Why should I get the flu shot?
Cancer treatment can weaken the immune system and put people with cancer at an increased risk for problems from the flu. These problems can include dehydration, sinus and ear infections, and bronchitis, which is inflammation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs. More serious problems include pneumonia, sepsis (a dangerous bodily reaction to infection), and inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues.
When should I get my flu shot?
The best time to get your flu shot is in September and October. Some children may need 2 doses of the flu vaccine, so they should get their initial shot even earlier. The CDC also recommends that adults avoid early vaccination in July or August, because you may be less protected later in the season. This is especially true for older adults, who may also need a stronger dose of the flu shot.
It is never too late to get vaccinated during flu season. Late vaccination can still help, and your doctor should have access to the flu vaccine throughout the winter.
The flu shot is safe for most people with cancer. However, if you are currently receiving immunotherapy, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy or if you have recently had a transplant, talk with your doctor before you get your flu shot. They will help you determine the best time to get your flu shot, so you have the best protection without affecting your cancer treatment plan.
Is there more than 1 type of flu shot?
For the 2020-2021 flu season, there are 6 flu vaccine options. If you are 65 years or older or if you have a severe egg allergy, you should talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the different options available to you. The links below will take you to the CDC’s website for more information on each type of vaccine.
Standard-Dose Flu Vaccine: This year’s standard-dose flu vaccine will protect against the 3 or 4 different flu viruses that will be most common during this flu season for those aged 6 months to 64 years. It is not recommended for people with a severe egg allergy, as the vaccine contains egg proteins, or for adults 65 and older.
High-Dose Flu Vaccine: Recommended for adults 65 years and older, this vaccine contains 4 times the antigens of the standard-dose vaccine. Antigens are what help your body protect itself against the flu.
Flu Vaccine with Adjuvant: Another flu vaccine option for adults who are 65 years and older. An adjuvant is the type of ingredient added to the vaccine in order to help the body have a stronger immune response.
Cell-Based Flu Vaccines: This flu vaccine option is meant for people ages 4 and older with severe egg allergies. Instead of growing the flu viruses in eggs, this vaccine uses flu viruses that are grown in cultured cells.
Recombinant Flu Vaccine: The recombinant flu vaccine is another option for those with severe egg allergies, as eggs are not used in the process of its creation. However, it is only recommended for people who are older than 18.
Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine: Also called live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), the nasal spray vaccine is an option this season for some people between the ages of 2 and 49. Do not get the nasal spray flu vaccine if you are pregnant, are 50 or older, have a weakened immune system, or are a caregiver for those who have a greatly weakened immune system. People with cancer and their caregivers should talk with the doctor before getting the nasal spray flu vaccine.
What should I know about getting the flu shot during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Where you will be able to get a flu vaccine may be different this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For example, some workplaces that typically offer the vaccine to employees may not do so this year if they are unable to maintain social distancing. The CDC recommends using the VaccineFinder tool to find a vaccine provider location near you.
While the flu vaccine cannot protect you against COVID-19, the CDC warns it is even more important to get your flu shot this year, as it reduces your risk of illness, hospitalization, and death. It is especially important for people with cancer to get the flu shot this year, as they may be at higher risk for more severe forms of both the flu and COVID-19. And, getting your flu shot can help reduce the strain on the health care system when it will be caring for people during the overlapping period of the COVID-19 pandemic and this year’s flu season.
For more information about what people with cancer should know during the COVID-19 pandemic, refer to these Cancer.Net blog posts.
What else can I do to protect myself against the flu?
Getting your flu vaccine is just the first step in preventing the spread of the flu. Here are some other ways you can help stop the spread of illnesses:
Encourage your friends, family, and coworkers to get the flu shot.
Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your face.
Wear a mask as directed by public health officials and your doctor’s recommendations.
Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
Stay home if you are feeling sick, and let your doctor know.
Wipe down surfaces regularly with a disinfectant cleaner at work, home, and school.