Flu season is here. If you’ve ever had the flu, you know how serious it can be. It is estimated that thousands of people die from the flu every year. What’s more, during the 2017-2018 flu season, an estimated 48.8 million were sickened by the flu. This caused more than 22 million people to see their healthcare provider, almost 1 million hospitalizations, and 79,4000 deaths.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as medical associations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that most people 6 months and older get vaccinated for the flu. Still, there are a lot of misconceptions about the flu and the flu vaccine. Read on to get the facts.
1. Myth: Getting the flu isn’t a big deal.
Fact: The flu is contagious and can be a serious disease, especially for older adults, young children, and people who have certain chronic health conditions. Even among healthy children and adults, the flu may cause serious health complications that can lead to hospitalization and death.
The CDC lists the following benefits of getting a flu vaccination every year. The flu vaccine may:
- Help people avoid getting the flu.
- Help reduce the risk of being hospitalized from the flu.
- Help women avoid getting the flu during and after pregnancy.
- Help reduce the risk of flu-related death among children.
- Help reduce the severity of the flu if you do get sick.
For the 2016-2017 flu season in the US, the CDC estimated that the flu vaccine helped prevent an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million medical visits, and 85,000 hospitalizations.
2. Myth: Getting the flu shot can give a person the flu.
Fact: Flu vaccines delivered via a shot (injection) are made from inactivated (or killed) viruses that cannot cause a flu illness.
The vaccine delivered via a nasal spray contains live viruses that have been attenuated (or weakened), so they cannot give people the flu.
Some people may have a reaction to the flu shot. People who get the flu shot may experience soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling at the spot they received it, as well as a low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches. People who get the flu vaccine via a nasal spray may have a runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, sore throat, or cough. The CDC states that these reactions are usually mild, are far less severe than having the actual flu and last for a short time.
3. Myth: People who get the flu vaccine can still get the flu, so it’s not worth getting vaccinated.
Fact: It’s true that some people who get vaccinated still get the flu. This can happen for several reasons. Some people:
- May have already been exposed to the flu virus before getting vaccinated or during the 2-week period after vaccination. It takes about 2 weeks for the body to develop antibodies after vaccination.
- May have become ill from other respiratory viruses (and not the flu).
- May be exposed to a flu virus that wasn’t included in the vaccine for that year.
- May get the flu even if the vaccine for that year is designed to help protect against it. A person’s response to the vaccine is based on his or her overall health and age. Some older people and people who have a chronic illness may develop less immunity compared to healthy, younger people.
Some studies show that people who were vaccinated but still got the flu had less severe symptoms than people who weren’t vaccinated and got the flu.
4. Myth: People don’t need to get the vaccine every year.
Fact: The CDC recommends that most people 6 months and older get the vaccine every year. This is because the flu viruses are constantly changing, and the viruses that cause the flu are different from year to year. The flu vaccine is changed every year to help protect against the specific viruses that researchers think will be circulating for the upcoming year.
Also, the protection received from the flu vaccine gets weaker over time. So even if the viruses don’t change from one year to the next, it is recommended that people still get the vaccine.
5. Myth: If people don’t get the flu vaccine early in the season, it’s too late to get it now.
Fact: The CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October. However, it’s better to get vaccinated late than not at all. As long as flu viruses are active, people should get vaccinated—even in January or later. This is because flu activity can last as late as May in some years.
6. Myth: If a person has a chronic illness or is pregnant, he or she shouldn’t get the flu vaccine.
Fact: Before getting the flu vaccine, talk with your healthcare provider.
The CDC recommends that most people 6 months of age or older get a yearly flu vaccination. This includes people with chronic health conditions and women who are pregnant. (The CDC recommends that women who are pregnant should get the flu shot – not the nasal spray flu vaccine.)
However, there are certain groups of people that should not get the flu vaccine.
People who should NOT get the flu shot include:
- Children younger than 6 months old.
- People who have an allergy to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients.
Talk with your healthcare provider before getting the flu shot if you have an allergy to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients, if you ever had Guillain-Barré syndrome, or are not feeling well.
Because the flu vaccine in the form of a nasal spray contains weakened live viruses, CDC recommends that certain people NOT receive the nasal spray flu vaccine. They include:
- Pregnant women.
- Children younger than 2 years old.
- Adults 50 years and older.
- People who have a severe, life-threatening allergy to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients.
- Children 2 years through 17 years old who are taking aspirin or medicines that contain salicylate.
- People with weakened immune systems.
- Children 2 years through 4 years old who have asthma or who have had a history of wheezing during the past 12 months.
- People who have taken an influenza antiviral medicine within the previous 48 hours.
- People who care for someone who is severely immunocompromised and requires a protected environment. The caregiver should avoid contact with the person they’re caring for 7 days after getting the nasal spray vaccine.
Talk with your healthcare provider before getting the nasal spray flu vaccine if you have asthma, a medical condition (such as lung disease, heart disease, kidney disorder), an acute illness with or without fever, or Guillain-Barré syndrome.
7. Myth: If people don’t have a regular doctor, they cannot get the vaccine.
Fact: Flu vaccinations are provided at drugstores, urgent care clinics, college health centers, the public health department, and sometimes, at places of employment. You can find specific locations for your zip code at https://vaccinefinder.org.
If you or someone you know has more questions or concerns about getting the flu vaccine, talk with your healthcare provider or a pharmacist.