This is one of the most common questions I get in my office during Flu season. While it seems like it would be simple to say Yes or No to this question, there are several things to take into consideration. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “everyone 6 months of age and shoulder should get an influenza vaccine every season with rare exceptions.”

The cautions recommended include:

  • life-threatening allergies to flu vaccines or ingredients in the vaccine. 
  • History of Guillain-Barre Syndrome

You can learn more about the CDC guidelines here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccinations.htm

So, how does this apply to people who have cancer? According to the CDC, people with cancer are recommended to have the inactivated flu vaccine. It could even reduce serious health events landing people in the hospital with an infection. Having a second dose of the vaccine is not recommended. 

However, if you are being treated with immunotherapies such as Rituximab, you should avoid the Flu injection and talk to your doctor. Also, there are not currently any studies linking the Flu Vaccine to increased Cancer Risk. 

Flu Vaccine and Chemotherapy

Will your body be able to benefit from the flu vaccine while on chemotherapy? Yes. The research studies show that people on chemotherapy can have an immune response to the shot. However, the live vaccine did not provide adequate protection. So only the inactive flu shot should be used. 

Flu Vaccine and Radiation

According to the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov), people undergoing radiation therapy should avoid the flu shot. While on radiation, you might not have an adequate immune response to make the injection effective. 

The Downsides to the Flu Vaccine

Research studies have shown that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary. Mostly, this is due to the nature of how the vaccine is made or chosen. If the Flu shot manufacturers and researchers choose the “wrong” strain, then the efficacy of the vaccine can drop to 18%. Some people are also concerned about the other ingredients contained in the injections. 

Other Things That Could Help Prevent Flu

Hand Washing

  • Reduces flu virus transmission
  • Reduces the likelihood of experiencing the flu

Elderberry

  • May reduce upper respiratory symptoms from viral infections
  • Resolves viral symptoms 4 days earlier than placebo

Green Tea

  • Lowers risk of having the flu
  • Decreases the amount of time the virus affects your body
  • Using as a gargle can also prevent infection

Engystol

  • A homeopathic preparation that has been studied for reducing the risk of viral infection

Studies:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5360112/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6655350/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6571572/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4685676/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30565573

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22682289 

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccinesafety.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21949042?log$=activity

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29708816

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15080016

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30670267

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21080959

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28487207

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26986125

https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/23/7/1795/htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16970537