Why People with Diabetes Should Get Flu Shots

You’ve probably been told by your doctor (or your child’s doctor) that people with diabetes should get the flu shot every year. CWD agrees! We’d like to share the science behind that recommendation so you can make informed decisions for you and your family.

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Do people with diabetes have higher risk of getting the flu?

No, people with diabetes do not have a higher risk of getting the flu. They have the same risk of catching the flu as people without diabetes. But this doesn’t mean you should skip your flu shot … keep reading.

What is a flu shot?

A flu shot is a vaccine given by injection to protect people from getting the flu. There are now many options for the flu shot including a nasal option. Different forms of the flu vaccine are made for different age groups of people. The Centers for Disease Control recommends “use of any licensed, age-appropriate influenza vaccine during the 2020-2021 influenza season, including inactivated influenza vaccine [IIV], recombinant influenza vaccine [RIV], or live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV). No preference is expressed for any influenza vaccine over another. Both trivalent (three-ingredient) and quadrivalent (four-ingredient) influenza vaccines will be available.”

Many of the flu shots are made with eggs, but there is one without eggs for people with allergies – details about flu shots and allergies are available on the CDC website.

Why do health care providers recommend getting the flu shot when you have diabetes if you are not at higher risk for getting the flu?

For people with diabetes, getting the flu can put you at a much higher risk of severe illness, high blood sugars and DKA if you are insulin-dependent (type 1 diabetes or people with type 2 who use insulin). This means that it’s much safer for people with diabetes to take preventative measures such as getting vaccinations to help avoid catching the illnesses. Unfortunately, since the risks are for getting more severe illness and DKA, this does also mean that it puts you at a higher risk for death from the illness as well.

How does a flu shot protect me from the flu?  And what does it mean when the vaccine isn’t “100% effective?”

As usual, nothing in life is perfect, and medications and vaccines are not immune to errors. The companies that make the vaccines do their best to predict which strains will be circulating when they make the flu vaccines. If you want some more information on how they are made, check out the CDC’s website.

As far as flu shots for people with diabetes, in 2018 there was a large meta-analysis (review of available research data) that demonstrated that getting the flu shot reduces the risk of hospitalization and death in people with diabetes, especially adults over the age of 65. This same article states that the effectiveness of the flu shot in preventing the flu was comparable to people without diabetes. It should work to protect from or at least help reduce the severity of the flu.

The bottom line

If you have diabetes or your family member (or child, spouse, friend) has diabetes, it’s best to get the flu shot. The risks of severe outcomes are much higher if people with diabetes get the flu, so reduce your risks and get protected.  Being prepared by getting vaccinated, as well as reviewing sick day rules in case of illness, can help keep you safest.

Stay healthy, friends!

Clinically reviewed by Marissa Town, RN, BSN, CDCES

Published: September 30, 2020

The Children with Diabetes editorial team is always working to keep our website updated with accurate, timely, and supportive information for families living with diabetes. Is there a content you’d like to see on CWD?  Email us!