Sneezing. Shivering. Body aches. Fever. Yes, the flu is — in a word — miserable. And according to the CDC, we're facing a particularly bad flu season this year. So how can we best protect ourselves and our families from the dreaded virus? Does the answer lie in the vaccine? Or does the flu shot do more harm than good?

The Flu Shot: Experts Weigh In

The seasonal flu vaccine is widely promoted as one of the easiest and most effective way to minimize your risk of coming down with the flu. The CDC, for instance, encourages vaccination for everyone over the age of 6 months, and especially for pregnant women, the elderly, and those with a chronic health condition. According to their website:

"[A]n annual seasonal flu vaccine (either the flu shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine) is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and lessen the chance that you will spread it to others. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through the community."

Others in the medical field, though, aren't so convinced of the value or even the safety of the flu vaccine. Natural health advocate Dr. Mercola, for example, insists that there are better ways to protect yourself and your family.

"[T]he hard evidence has yet again shown that flu vaccines rarely work. There are many other far more effective ways to prevent the flu ... making sure your vitamin D and gut flora are optimized, being more meticuoous about washing your hands, getting enough exercise and sleep, and eating foods that support your immune system."

Parents, as Always, Disagree

Vaccination is almost always a controversial topic, and the flu shot is no exception. For some parents, the flu shot simply isn't worth the risk.

"The shot doesn't guarantee that you won't get the flu because they guess which strains will be around most. Why take a risk with a new shot that could have issues?" asks Tammie, a mom of two. "We eat healthy and are prepared with healthy ways to fight it. Plus, I'm still nursing so the baby will get my boost of immunities."

But for other parents, the vaccine — even if it is an imperfect science — represents one more weapon in the battle to protect a chronically ill child. Parenting Squad writer Nancy Flanders never used to get a flu shot — then she had a daughter diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. Now her entire family gets one every year.

"It doesn't mean we won't get the flu," she says, "but it could mean it won't be as bad as it could be and she won't end up in the hospital. I wish everyone would get it so we didn't have to worry about her being exposed to it, but I know that's impossible."

Virginia, a preschool teacher in Atlanta, agrees that one of the main reasons a flu shot is so important is not just to protect yourself, but also to protect those around you. In her opininion:

"[Y]our decision to not get a flu shot means you may get a serious illness, and, worse, you may pass that illness to someone else with a compromised immune system with serious consequences. I get a flu shot because I don't want to pass the flu on to the small children in my preschool class. It's the same old argument — people are only able to afford NOT getting the shots because the rest of us do. Not right."

Flu Vaccine Resources

When even the experts disagree, it can be difficult to determine the best course of action for your family. In order to make an informed decision about the flu shot, you're going to need to research the issue for yourself, and consult with a medical professional whose opinion you trust.

The following resources can help you get started.

Do you get a flu shot? Why or why not?