Separating flu vaccination fact from fiction can be challenging in this age of information overload. But it’s critical to have the facts straight because influenza and COVID-19 are separate viruses –so we run the risk of contracting both at the same time. That’s why it’s more important than ever to get a flu shot this year.
Jeffrey Silvers, M.D., Sutter Health’s medical director of Pharmacy and Infection Control, dispels six common flu vaccination myths to help you and your loved ones stay healthy this flu season.
Myth #1: “My flu shot gave me the flu.”
Fact: Dr. Silvers says, “You can’t catch the flu from flu vaccine because the influenza viruses in the vaccine are dead, and therefore they’re not infectious.”
Dr. Silvers says sometimes people think the vaccine has given them the flu because they get sick soon after being vaccinated. He explains it takes about two weeks after you’ve received the flu vaccine for antibodies to develop in your body and provide protection against flu. “So, if you come down with the flu a few days after you receive a flu shot, you were probably infected with the flu before you got the shot or before your immune system had a chance to build up its defenses,” he says.
Even when they get a flu shot, people occasionally may still get the flu, not because their immunity wasn’t built up before they were exposed to it, but because they caught a strain of flu that wasn’t in the flu vaccine they received. This can happen because the strains of influenza virus that are included in the vaccine each year, there are typically four, may not exactly match the strains circulating in the community. Each year, infectious disease experts select the strains they believe will be prevalent in the U.S based on their observations of the most recent flu season in the Southern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, they’re not always able to predict which strains will be most prevalent in the U.S.
Even if the flu vaccine isn’t a perfect match for the strains in circulation during a given flu season, receiving a flu shot is still be beneficial. People who are vaccinated against the flu and still come down with the virus typically experience milder symptoms than those who skip the shot.
Myth #2: “I never get the flu, so I don’t need the vaccine.”
Fact: According to the CDC, nearly a quarter of those infected with the flu virus didn’t even know they were sick because they had such mild symptoms. The problem with that, says Dr. Silvers, is asymptomatic people can still spread the flu virus to others for up to a week. Getting a flu shot helps protect you, your loved ones and the larger community.
Myth #3: “Getting the flu isn’t a big deal.”
Fact: The flu is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and death, especially for people at high-risk such as newborn babies, people with chronic medical conditions and the elderly.
Remember, says Dr. Silvers, “If you get the flu, even if it’s a mild case and you don’t have symptoms, you could still pass it along to someone for whom getting the flu is a big deal, even deadly, like a grandparent, a newborn, or someone who has a weakened immune system—such as a person who is undergoing chemotherapy.”
Myth #4: “I’m young and healthy, so I don’t need to get vaccinated for the flu.”
Fact: The CDC recommends that nearly everybody 6 months and older get vaccinated for the flu. That’s because the flu is a contagious disease that can lead to serious illness, like pneumonia, as well as missed work or even hospitalization for otherwise healthy people.
Myth #5: “I can’t get a flu shot because I’m pregnant.”
Fact: The CDC recommends that all pregnant women get flu vaccinations because pregnant women are at a higher risk for serious complications from flu. Flu may also be harmful for a developing baby. Getting the flu shot while you’re pregnant even helps protect your baby from the flu for months after birth because moms pass antibodies to their babies before they’re born. And that’s important, says Dr. Silvers, because babies younger than 6 months can’t get the flu vaccine and are more likely to suffer serious complications from the flu.
Myth #6: “I got vaccinated for the flu last year, so I don’t need it again this year.”
Fact: You must get the vaccine every year in order to protect yourself and others from the flu. Why? Dr. Silvers explains, “The immune protection you get from a flu shot declines over time and flu viruses are constantly mutating.” These mutations are why the flu vaccine is updated every year.
The bottom line? For the best protection, nearly everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated annually.
“OK, I’m convinced. Where can I get a flu shot?”
Flu shots are available by appointment at your doctor’s office. Same day flu shots are available by appointment at Sutter Walk-In Care facilities. Click here for more information and flu vaccination resources.