Influenza, commonly known as the flu, isn't "just a bad cold." The flu is a nasty viral infection that attacks your respiratory system - your nose, throat, and lungs.
During the 2018-2019 flu season, the CDC estimates that up to 42.9 million people got sick with the flu, 647,000 people were hospitalized, and 61,200 died. These numbers are on par with a typical season.
Some people with thyroid conditions worry about the flu shot’s effect on their already sensitive immune system - that the benefit of the flu shot isn’t worth any risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the flu vaccine for everyone - including those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease. There are no proven contraindications with your thyroid condition or any thyroid medications you take.
Of course, there are mild risks in getting vaccinated. Still, the dangers of getting the flu outweigh any risks - real or perceived.
Current CDC recommendations
Seasonal shots, usually administered by a needle in the arm, protect against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the season.
The CDC recommends yearly flu shots for all people ages six months and older, especially those who are at higher risk of developing flu complications. These include:
- People age 50 or older
- Children age five or younger
- Pregnant women
- Nursing home and long-term care residents
- People with a BMI of 40 or higher
- People with suppressed immune systems
- People with chronic medical conditions like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney or liver diseases
Who should NOT get the flu shot
According to the CDC, the only two groups of people who should not get the flu shot are:
- Children younger than six months old
- People with a known allergy to the flu vaccine or its ingredients
People who have an anaphylactic reaction to eggs should consult with their doctor since most flu vaccines have tiny amounts of egg proteins. Some formulations of the flu vaccines do not contain egg proteins. A health care professional who can recognize and manage severe allergic reactions can administer these formulations in a medical setting.
Autoimmune disease risk
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland.
Since the flu shot stimulates the immune systems to produce protective antibodies, some people worry that it may also trigger an autoimmune flare-up.
The relationship between vaccines and autoimmune conditions is a double-edged sword. Infection may be one of the reasons for an autoimmune flare-up. So while the flu shot itself prevents an infectious disease, post-vaccine side effects may trigger an autoimmune reaction.
The evidence that this kind of autoimmune flare-up occurs after vaccination is slim, with research suggesting less than 0.01% of all vaccinations performed worldwide cause an autoimmune reaction.
Side effects of the flu shot
Common side effects of a flu shot include soreness, redness or swelling in the injection site, low-grade headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches, or fatigue.
What should I do if I have a serious reaction to a seasonal influenza vaccine?
It is very rare to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction to the flu shot. Signs of a severe allergic reaction may include breathing problems, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heartbeat, or dizziness within a few minutes to a few hours of receiving the shot.
If you experience one of these symptoms, call or get to a doctor right away. Make sure to tell them what happened, the date and time it happened, and when you got your flu shot.
Weighing the pros and cons
It’s essential to weigh your options to make an informed choice about whether or not the flu shot is right for you.
Pros of getting a flu shot may include:
- Reduced risk of being infected with the potentially deadly flu virus,
- Preventing you from passing the flu virus to others who may be more at-risk
Cons of getting a flu shot may include:
- Still getting the flu if the annual strain differs from the predicted strain used to formulate the vaccine meaning
- Uncomfortable side effects that may last for up to two days
How to strengthen the immune system
Whichever way you decide, you can still care for yourself and others during the flu season by taking care of your immune system.
- Eliminate processed and refined sugars and increase your healthy fat intake.
- Add foods that are known to boost immunity into your meals. Try garlic, ginger, onions, and turmeric.
- Support your immune function with thyroid support supplements like vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc.
- Manage your stress and practice a healthy sleep routine
Vaccination is a personal choice for each person, and we suggest making your decision without making any assumptions. Do your research and speak with a trustworthy doctor to make an informed decision.