Another flu season is approaching and, like years past, doctors are advising people to get a flu shot. But, you've heard and read stories about adverse reactions and negative side effects of getting a flu shot, making you hesitant to get you and your family vaccinated.
Unfortunately, there is no shortage of misinformation about the flu shot. These misconceptions oftentimes prevent people from getting vaccinated. So, what is the truth? Are flu shots safe? Is the flu shot right for you? Here, we debunk seven common flu shot myths.
Myth 1: Getting the flu shot will give you the flu.
This may be the most common flu shot myth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, no, the flu shot cannot give you the flu.The fact is, after getting a flu shot, some people may have soreness at the spot of injection and even a mild fever, but that is a result of the body building an immune response to the vaccine – exactly what the body is supposed to be doing. However, the flu shot does not cause the flu and there is no active virus in the flu vaccine given with a needle (the nasal spray does contain live virus, but the virus is weakened so they won't cause flu illness)
Myth 2: Influenza is not that serious so it isn't necessary to get the vaccine.
The CDC estimates that there are between 9.3 million to 49 million cases each year. This leads to approximately 140,000 to 960,000 hospitalizations annually, and last year there were nearly 80,000 deaths.
Even though you may think you feel healthy and that getting the flu virus won't harm your health in the long run, it's important to remember that people you may come into contact with daily are at risk too – the elderly, children, parents of children and pregnant women could be put at risk of getting the flu virus from you. Educating yourself about getting the flu shot and knowing what precautions are available if you do get the flu, isn't just for your personal benefit, it's for everyone around you.
Myth 3: You don't need a flu shot if you had one last year.
You need to be vaccinated every year for two very important reasons.
First, from year-to-year and place-to-place the flu virus is constantly changing. As strains of the flu virus change, new vaccines must be made to protect against the flu's new strains. Last year's flu shot may not be prepared to combat this season's common flu viruses.
Second, while your seasonal flu shot should protect you throughout flu season, the antibodies your body produces to protect you from the flu virus after receiving the vaccine decline over time. Getting a flu shot every year can help keep you protected against the flu year-after-year.
Myth 4: Flu shots are dangerous for children.
If you have children, you may be wondering — are flu shots safe for my kids? Children under the age of 5 are more likely to develop serious complications if they get the flu, and a vaccine can help decrease their risk.
A 2017 study published in Pediatrics showed that the flu vaccine reduced the risk of flu-associated death by 65 percent among healthy children 17 or younger. If that's not reason enough to have your child vaccinated, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu shot.
Myth 5: The flu shot makes you more susceptible to other respiratory viruses.
Based on the most current research, the CDC has found no evidence to suggest the flu vaccine makes people more susceptible to other respiratory infections.
Not to mention, a study published in March 2017 in the Journal of Infectious Diseases found that getting a flu shot won't weaken your immune system.
Myth 6: It is better for the body to build immunity "naturally" by getting influenza
The flu vaccine is perfectly safe for most people to take every year. Again, the most commonly reported side effects are a headache and soreness or redness at the injection site.
It is possible that people with an allergy to eggs could suffer from an allergic reaction to the vaccine itself, since there is a small amount of egg protein within the shot. But the CDC says that people with this sensitivity can receive any licensed, recommended and age-appropriate flu vaccine; only people who have had severe allergic reactions should not receive it.
But these types of severe reactions are rare — only about 1.3 percent of children and 0.2 percent of adults are affected, and a recent CDC study found that only about 1 person in 1 million has an allergic reaction. If you are concerned about potential side effects, have a conversation with your doctor to see if the flu shot is right for you.
7. Getting the flu is no big deal.
Flu shots aren't just for your personal benefit — they're for everyone around you. It's important to remember that when you have the flu, coming into contact with elderly people, children, parents of children and pregnant women puts them at risk, too. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get the flu vaccine.
If you start to feel flu-like symptoms, go to your doctor as soon as possible to be tested – a flu test is the only way to know for sure if you have the virus. Antiviral medication works best if given within 48 hours of symptom onset so getting tested earlier can lead to better outcomes.
If you do wind up with the flu, make sure to listen to what your body is telling you it needs, whether that's more sleep, fluids, a warm bowl of chicken noodle soup, or a few days off from the gym – whatever it may be, take the time your body needs to recover.