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


14 thoughts on “Can I get the flu shot if I’m sick? What if I have a fever?

  1. What if I have had cancer in the past and I have the flu but my doctor said I can’t get the flu shot I’m only 14 years old

    • You need to follow the advice of your doctor. If your doctor does not want you to get the flu shot, then you should not.

  2. I got my flu shot today but didn’t tell them I am on my last few days of antibiotic for pneumonia from a surgery I had recently and still fighting will this be a problem? And what should I watch for if anything?

  3. I was just diagnosed with strep throat and wanted to take the flu shot on Sunday (3 days from now). I immediately started taking antibiotics and was told by my doctor that I should see improvement in my health by Saturday. Can I still follow through with the vaccine even though I finish treatment in a week?

    • They say as long as you are not running a fever it is alright to get vaccine. Though for me, I do better if I’m not already feeling bad when I get the vaccine. It just makes me worse, but not everyone is the same.

  4. I’m starting to feel some signs that I maybe sick but I do have allergies so I’m kind of confused here.It worries me because I haven’t got the flu shot yet Can that be a bad thing if I get sick before my flu shot? I’m 17

    • The CDC reports: flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. If you kiss your girlfriend while she has the flu, you are definitely putting yourself at risk. The flu shot may protect you. You may, however, get a lesser version of the flu with the direct exposure.

  5. I went to my doctor with a swollen sore throat and he told me I had a virus and would just have to wait for it to pass. He also gave me flu shot that same day. I have now been sick
    for 10 days. Should I have skipped the flu shot?

    • The flu shot contains a dead virus which means you cannot get the flu from the flu virus. Now, when you receive the flu shot it takes 10+ days for the antibodies to build in your system to protect you against the flu. So, it could very well be that you already had the flu or were already infected at the time your receive the vaccine.

      I am sure your doctor told you this – but drink an absurd amount of fluids – by that I mean a lot. This helps to wash that nasty gunky stuff out of your throat which will help both with a cough and sore throat. For me personally I go with tea/lemon/honey. To be honest I’m not much of a tea drinker, but when I have sore throat I pull out some nice cinnamon tea adding lemon and honey.

  6. My child was coughing with a runny nose and a little wheezing. The nurse said he was fine because he didn’t have a fever and can still receive the flu shot. (Didn’t assess his breathing). 2 days later he developed hives all over and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Could the hives be a reaction from the body fighting off whatever illness, possibly pneumonia, he had and counteracting to the shot?

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