Can I get the flu shot if I’m sick? What if I have a fever?

Flu shots available in the pharmacy.

We’re quickly heading into the heart of flu season here, Buckeyes – in fact we’ve already seen a couple of cases – so it’s time to talk flu vaccine. 

There are a few valid reasons to not get a flu vaccine:

  • You’ve had a severe allergic reaction to eggs in the past
  • You’ve had a bad reaction to a flu vaccine in the past
  • You’ve had something called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) after receiving influenza vaccine in the past. 

These are pretty rare conditions, but being sick this time of year sure isn’t and we get asked all the time whether or not someone can get a flu shot if they’re sick.  Or even worse – people just assume they can’t and we never see them!  So let’s set the record straight.

If you’re sick with a cold or other mild illness (respiratory or otherwise) and you don’t have a fever, you can absolutely get your flu vaccine.  If you have a fever (temp over 99.5ish), the general consensus has always been that you should hold off on getting the flu vaccine until it breaks.  Why?  Two reasons:

  1. If you spike a fever right after getting the vaccine, we won’t know if you’re having a bad reaction to the vaccine (see above) or if it’s just your illness.  We don’t want to confuse the matter and cause you to not get the vaccine in the future.
  2. The vaccine might not be as effective.  If your immune system is all fired up fighting an infection, your white blood cells might get confused and attack the vaccine along with whatever ails you, leading to a weaker response to the vaccine.

As you can see, neither of these issues is a safety concern – getting a flu shot while you have a fever isn’t going to hurt you.  Because of this, and because influenza can be deadly even in healthy teenagers, many health care providers are starting to think it might be better to give the flu vaccine to someone with a fever and risk them having a slightly weaker response than to send them away and risk them not coming back for the vaccine at all. 

When in doubt, just ask us.  You can come into our pharmacy to get your flu shot between 8:30am – 4:00pm, Monday through Friday – no appointment necessary!  Just go to the first floor registration desk at the Wilce Student Health Center.  We’ll collect your payment; you’ll turn around and walk about 12 steps to the pharmacy where one of our highly skilled and dedicated pharmacists will administer the immunization.  We’ll ask you to stick around for 10 minutes to ensure you do not have a bad reaction.

So come in and see us for your flu vaccine!  To save yourself time, you can even download the 3 forms you’ll need to fill out here and bring them in with you.  See how easy it is?

John A. Vaughn, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University


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