Less than 50 percent of Americans got the flu shot during the 2014-2015 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The misconceptions surrounding influenza vaccinations can be as rampant and hard to fight as the virus itself.
“Education is our No. 1 barrier,” said Dr. Gary DeRosa of Novant Health UVA Health System Bull Run Family Medicine. “The flu is an extremely dangerous virus and vaccination is the only safeguard we have to protect people from contracting it and spreading it further.”
And that’s important because the flu isn’t just a really bad cold. Each year, an average of 200,000 Americans are hospitalized with the flu, and it kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people – close to the number of women killed annually by breast cancer and more than double the number of annual AIDS-related deaths.
We’ve compiled the top five flu shot myths that circulate each year.
Myth No. 1
The flu vaccine can give you the flu.
The influenza viruses contained in flu shots are killed so they cannot cause infection. The most common flu shot side effect is injection site soreness, which can last a couple of days. Rare symptoms include low-grade fever, muscle aches and feelings of discomfort or weakness that last only a few days.
As of June 2016, the CDC is no longer recommending the nasal spray form of the flu vaccine, stating it is “ineffective” and only protects against 3 percent of cases. In comparison, the flu shot is 63 percent effective.
Very rarely, serious allergic reactions to the vaccine can occur. Notify your physician immediately if you experience any serious reactions.
Myth No. 2
I don’t need to be vaccinated if I’m healthy and/or young.
While it’s true that people over the age of 65 are most likely to become seriously ill from the seasonal flu, some strains can be equally dangerous for young people. Eighty percent of H1N1 swine flu deaths are in people under the age of 65. And both seasonal and widespread flu strains are especially dangerous for young children.
Everyone over 6 months old should receive a flu vaccine every season, as recommended by the CDC. Vaccination is especially important for high-risk populations, including children; older adults; pregnant women; healthcare workers; caregivers of high-risk populations and infants; and those with medical conditions, such as asthma, weakened immune systems, heart disease, blood disorders and more.
Always consult with your physician before getting a flu shot. There are rare instances where you may be ineligible for vaccination, including a history of allergic reactions, especially to eggs, which are used to grow the vaccine.
Myth No. 3
I’ll wait to get my shot so it lasts longer or until I see how bad the flu season is.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for your body to develop the antibodies to fight the infection. That’s why it’s best to get vaccinated early in the season before potential influenza exposure. The flu season varies each year, but most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February, meaning activity can begin as early as October and last as late as May.
The CDC recommends vaccination as soon as flu shots are available, preferably by October.
Studies show that even though the body’s immunity to influenza viruses declines over time, one flu shot enables healthy people with regular immune systems to produce antibodies to protect them for an entire flu season. It’s important to get vaccinated every flu season, even if the viruses in the vaccine haven’t changed from your vaccination last year.
Myth No. 4
If I get a flu shot, I won’t get the flu.
Even with vaccination, flu infection is possible. You may be exposed to the flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or before your body has built enough antibodies in the two weeks after you’ve received the shot to fight the infection.
You may also be exposed to a strain of the flu that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are a multitude of flu viruses and the flu shot is only designed to protect against the three or four viruses that are expected to be most common that year. You may also become infected with a flu virus that your shot was designed to protect against, especially if you’re at higher risk for the flu. The flu shot is still your best defense against the flu and can decrease the severity of your symptoms if you do contract the virus.
I don't need to get a flu shot every year.
The influenza virus changes every year so getting vaccinated annually is important to make sure you have immunity to the strains most likely to cause an outbreak. The flu vaccine must be reformulated each year to protect against the most common viruses circulating that season.