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10 Flu Vaccine Myths Busted

Today's Medicine
Published: Sept. 2, 2020

 

It’s that time of year again: flu season. And with it come annual influenza vaccinations. 

With our medical system already under strain from COVID-19, the flu vaccine has added importance this season. By getting it – and all vaccinations you’re due for – you’re doing your part to protect yourself and your community from preventable diseases and outbreaks. That cuts down on medical visits and hospitalizations during a time when our health care workers need every advantage they can get.

Here’s more about how the flu spreads, how the vaccine works and the truth behind 10 common flu vaccine myths.

 

How you get the flu

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness. It spreads when a sick person coughs, sneezes or talks, and virus-filled droplets are inhaled by another person. It can also spread when a person touches a contaminated surface before touching then their mouth, eyes or nose.

Once infected, you can pass influenza to another person before you even know you’re sick. Healthy adults can spread the flu up to a day before symptoms develop, and for five to seven days after becoming sick.

 

An unpredictable illness

In some years, fewer people become ill with the flu, or their symptoms are mild. In other years, influenza is particularly aggressive and can affect many more people with more severe symptoms. Each year, those variables depend on which strains of the flu are spreading, how well the latest flu vaccine matches those strains, the availability of the vaccine and the number of people who’ve been vaccinated.

 

Why get a vaccine?

Getting a flu shot or other vaccine option each year is a great way to protect yourself from getting the flu or lessen the severity of your symptoms if you do get it. 

But the vaccine isn’t just about you. Its success across our communities is all about “herd immunity.” The concept of herd immunity is to vaccinate as many healthy people as possible in order to protect those who cannot be vaccinated. It also can protect people who get vaccinated but are at high risk for complications if they were to get the flu – this includes kids under the age 5, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.

 

Vaccine myths busted

Unfortunately, myths and misconceptions about vaccinations are common, leading people to forgo using some of the best health tools we have. Let’s set the record straight on 10 of the most common myths about the flu vaccine. 

MYTH: “I don’t want to get the flu from the influenza vaccine.”

You cannot get the flu from the influenza vaccine. No matter which type of vaccine you receive, the virus within it is either inactive, altered or weakened. If you get sick soon after receiving the shot, you may have been exposed to the flu or another virus before your vaccination or before it took effect.

MYTH: “I got the stomach flu from the flu shot.”

Although some people may experience nausea and upset stomach after receiving the vaccine, the vaccine doesn’t cause the “stomach flu.” The phrase “stomach flu” actually refers to gastroenteritis and is in no way associated with influenza. The flu shot does not offer any protection against the “stomach flu.” 

MYTH: “I don’t need the flu shot. I never get the flu.”

Imagine saying, “I don’t need to wear a seat belt. I never get in car accidents.” No one chooses to get influenza. Just because you haven’t gotten the flu before doesn’t mean you won’t ever get it.

MYTH: “I’m allergic to eggs, so I can’t get the flu shot.”

Not all versions of the flu vaccine are prepared with eggs. Check with your primary care provider or pharmacy to see if an alternative is available. 

MYTH: “I got the flu shot last year, so I’m covered.”

Unlike most vaccines, the flu vaccine is updated and given every year. There are many different strains of flu virus, and each year the vaccine is formulated to protect against the most common strains. Having the flu shot last year won’t necessarily provide you with immunity from this year’s strains. 

MYTH: “I heard the flu hasn’t been that bad in other parts of the world this year. I don’t need a shot because it won’t be a bad flu season here.”

It’s true that medical experts have recorded less severe flu seasons in parts of the world where influenza spreads before the traditional American flu season. The reason isn’t clear, though. It may truly be a milder flu season. But measures taken to combat COVID-19 – masking, social distancing, improved hand hygiene and reduced travel – may also be helping to keep the flu at bay. Still, there’s no guarantee that influenza will be any less widespread or severe in the U.S. this year. The flu vaccine is another smart tool you can use to keep yourself and those around you healthy.

MYTH: “The flu isn’t that serious. I won’t get that sick if I get it.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as many as 56 million people in the U.S. were sick with the flu last season, with as many as 740,000 being hospitalized. Between 24,000 and 62,000 deaths were flu-related, the CDC estimates. The flu is deadly serious. You may not get that sick if you get it, but many people become very ill. Why risk your health or theirs?

MYTH: “I heard that vaccines, including the flu shot, aren’t safe.”

Vaccines are safe. They are subject to extensive research and testing, and hundreds of millions of doses of the flu vaccine alone have been given in the U.S. over the years. Vaccines do not cause autism or contain unsafe levels of toxins. The flu shot can cause mild side effects, and allergic reactions are possible but rare. However, its benefits far outweigh these risks.

MYTH: “If I get the shot, it’s impossible to get the flu.”

Here’s a myth I wish were true. Each year’s vaccine is formulated to protect against flu strains that are circulating, but it’s not perfect. It’s important to remember that even if you get the flu, having the vaccine beforehand can lessen the severity of your symptoms.

MYTH: “The flu season has started. It’s too late to get vaccinated.”

It takes about two weeks to be protected from the flu after vaccination, so it’s recommended that you get the flu vaccine in September or October before the flu season traditionally ramps up. But it’s essentially never too late. Flu is usually at its worst between December and March, and it can still be circulating as late as May.

 

Protect yourself and others

The moral of the story? Nearly everyone over 6 months of age should get an annual flu vaccination.

This year’s vaccine is now readily available at local pharmacies and from your Methodist Physicians Clinic primary care provider. Methodist Physicians Clinic is also offering drive-thru flu shots by appointment at five area locations.

More resources

Lindsay Northam

About the Author:

Dr. Lindsay Northam is very passionate about patient care. In order to deliver exceptional care for people, she believes it is important to form strong patient relationships.

Dr. Northam believes that all patients should leave her clinic at Methodist Physicians Clinic 192Dodge feeling they were truly heard and respected.

See More Articles by Lindsay Northam