The Flu Shot After a Kidney Transplant

January 12, 2018, 1:19pm EST

Why Get a Flu Shot?

Getting a flu shot and taking other steps for prevention can offer the best protection from a serious disease. Flu shots are generally safe and recommended for people with a kidney transplant.
The flu (or influenza) vaccine is commonly called the “flu shot.” It needs to be given once per year, usually in the fall before flu season begins. The flu shot helps prevent infection from the influenza virus, which can make people very sick and even cause death. Flu symptoms can include headaches, body aches, high fever, sore throat, fatigue, and a runny nose. The flu can be passed along by casual, person-to-person contact, so the flu shot can also help protect others.
A vaccine like the flu shot protects people by helping the body “prepare” for a real infection. It does this by making the body’s defense (known as the immune system) produce antibodies, which help the body find and kill germs like the flu virus.

How Well Does a Flu Shot Work After a Transplant?

People with a kidney transplant need to take certain medicines to prevent rejection of the transplanted kidney (called anti-rejection or immunosuppression medicines). However, these medicines usually work by lowering or suppressing the immune system to keep it from attacking the transplanted kidney. As a result, people with a kidney transplant have a higher chance of getting the flu, and the infection can be more serious.
It is also possible that the flu shot might not work as well in people with a kidney transplant, since they have a less active immune system from the anti-rejection medicines. How well a flu shot works in a person with a kidney transplant can depend on a few things, such as a person’s overall health, types of medication, and strength of their immune system.
Getting a flu shot, however, is still recommended. It offers the best chance for protection from the flu. It is important to speak with a healthcare provider about getting a flu shot, and there are other things to keep in mind. People with a kidney transplant should not receive certain vaccines, including a type of flu shot called live (or attenuated) that usually comes in the form of a nasal mist. People with a recent transplant (within the first 6 months) should check with their healthcare provider to make sure they can get a flu shot.
There are also other steps that can be taken to help prevent the flu:
  • Make sure others in the household get a flu shot
  • Wash hands
  • Avoid touching the face and eyes after being in a crowded place
If you have additional questions about the flu shot, or other vaccines, you can talk to your healthcare provider or contact the National Kidney Foundation at 855.NKF.CARES (855.653.2273).