Many people refuse to get a flu shot because they believe one or more misconceptions floating around on the Internet. Don’t let any of these myths keep you from getting a flu shot!
1. Flu shots don’t work.
While it is true that flu shots do not keep everyone from getting the flu, effectiveness of the vaccine is rated by the CDC at about 60%. The flu is caused by several different viruses, and it is not possible to produce vaccines for all of them. Further, flu viruses mutate or change often and rapidly, compounding the difficulty. Finally, the vaccine becomes effective 2-3 weeks after the flu shot is administered, and some people catch the flu before then.
One other point to remember is that the primary goal of the flu vaccination program is to prevent an epidemic or pandemic, not to prevent every case of the flu. After all, we do not want to repeat the pandemic of 1918 when approximately 500 million people were affected worldwide resulting in deaths of 20-40 million in one year—the greatest natural disaster in world history. Further, even a modest reduction in flu cases helps to lessen the number of deaths among the elderly, chronically ill, and children. Even if you get the flu, perhaps from a different strain of the virus, you will probably endure less severe symptoms after having the shot.
2. Pregnant women should not get a flu shot.
Some have claimed that flu shots cause miscarriages or other health problems for pregnant women. No scientifically valid study supports that claim. In fact, the flu vaccine can protect both the mother and the fetus—a very important point, since children under 6 months should not receive the vaccine after they are born.
3. I should wait until later in the season to get a flu shot.
Many people put off getting a flu shot because they want the vaccine to last for the entire flu season. Research shows, however, that the vaccine is effective up to a year later which is plenty of coverage for a flu season that lasts from fall until May. No one can predict when outbreaks of the flu will begin. That is why medical authorities recommend getting a flu shot as early as mid-September.
4. I don’t need to get a flu shot every year.
Unlike many other vaccines, the one for influenza is changed every year to counter different or mutated strains of the virus. What worked effectively one year might not work as well the next. Scientists are working on developing synthetic vaccines that could be developed into a universal flu vaccine that would protect against all or most strains and could be administered by means of one dose for life. Until they succeed, however, we will need to get a flu shot every year.
5. People who are allergic to eggs should not get a flu shot.
Although the most widely used flu vaccines are manufactured by a process that uses chicken eggs, the amount of material derived from eggs is miniscule. Therefore, the CDC recommends that the vaccine is generally safe for those who exhibit allergic reactions to eggs. Such persons who are allergic to eggs should consult with their health provider before receiving the vaccine.
In addition, processes, such as cell-based and recombinant technology, that do not use chicken eggs at all have been developed and approved. These forms of the flu vaccine have been approved for use under the name Flublok® and can be administered to adults 18 years of age and older.
6. A flu shot can give you the flu.
No, a flu shot cannot give you the flu. That’s because all forms of the vaccine contain inactive forms of the flu virus.
Because the vaccine is not fully effective for 2-3 weeks, however, some people might get the flu shortly after receiving the shot. That experience probably reinforces this particular myth.
Bottom line: Get a flu shot this year!
For more information about flu shots, check out my previous post, Get Your Flu Shot Now! If you have questions, call us at Kathy’s Urgent Care.
Authored by Dr. Tom Brown.