Think the flu vaccine give you the flu? Think again. Persistent misconceptions can make it easy to rationalize skipping your flu shot, but doing so can cause dangerous situations for you and those around you.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Everyone 6 months and older is recommended for annual flu vaccination.” While some people can’t get vaccinated due to health complications, for the majority population the flu shot is a way to stay healthy through the winter.
Learn the truth behind the most common flu misconceptions and consider getting vaccinated this season.
“It gives you the flu”
Some people worry about getting the flu as a result of vaccination. But flu shots contain viruses that have been killed,and nasal sprays have microorganisms that can’t multiply in humans. So why do some people feel sick after getting a flu shot?
It’s possible to experience side effects after a flu shot. For most, the only noticeable effect is soreness around the injection site, but some experience aches, fatigue, and even low-grade fevers for one or two days. Those side effects are not flu symptoms—the flu is far more severe, and symptoms last longer than one to two days. If you’re among those with side effects, you may find comfort in knowing it would be much worse if you actually got the flu.
“It doesn’t work”
You may have been vaccinated in the past only to come down with the flu. Several causes result in the belief that flu vaccines are ineffective:
1. Different sickness: In some cases, you catch a different sickness that has flu-like symptoms. Your body reacts to a variety of illnesses with the same symptoms.
2. Different flu virus: It’s entirely possible that you catch the flu—but it’s not the same virus that you were vaccinated against. If you’re exposed to a different virus, you may get sick.
3. Vaccinated too late: Your body takes approximately two weeks to develop immunity to the flu. If you get exposed before you receive a shot, you may get sick with a strain of the flu before the vaccination takes effect.
The CDC says that vaccinations are 40 to 60 percent effective in years when the vaccine is well-matched to what’s going around.
“I’m healthy and I’ll fight it off”
The flu can be debilitating, even if you’re healthy. In many cases, you can successfully fight off the virus. But it’s possible for your immune system to overreact, or for your health to fail as a result of your body’s efforts to fight off the virus.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that 179 children died from the flu last year. Adults are also at risk: 70-85 percent of deaths occur among those over age 65. In some cases, the flu weakens your immune system, allowing other sicknesses to take hold. Those conditions can cause additional physical damage, lingering health problems or death.
This is a leading reason you should take flu-prevention seriously.
“I don’t need a shot every year”
You might think you’re immune to the flu after just one shot, but there are many different flu viruses. Every year, researchers try to predict which viruses will be most active in your area, and they include three to four varieties in each vaccination. Viruses evolve (or mutate) over time, and your immune system needs to keep up.
To learn more about the strains targeted this year, read up-to-date reports on flu vaccines published by the CDC.
“I’ll just take antibiotics”
The flu is a virus, not a bacteria, so antibiotics are not effective. As a result, it’s a waste of time and money to treat the flu with antibiotics (unless you subsequently develop a bacterial infection). Antibiotics can also impact your stomach health and reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics in the future. It’s best to save those drugs for when you really need them—and when they’ll actually work.
“Flu shots have dangerous chemicals”
Flu shots can contain chemicals like mercury and formaldehyde, but it’s critical to understand why before avoiding vaccination altogether.
Mercury is a preservative in some flu shots, but many are mercury-free. If your healthcare provider or pharmacy isn’t already using preservative-free flu shots, you can typically ask for a single-dose flu shot and avoid mercury altogether.
Shots may also contain trace amounts of formaldehyde from the manufacturing process. But the amount in a flu shot is far less than you’re already exposed to from popular foods and cosmetics. For example, some fruits have significantly more naturally occurring formaldehyde than your annual flu shot (and hopefully, you eat fruit regularly). What’s more, the amount of formaldehyde naturally occurring in newborn babies is 50 to 70 times what they receive in vaccines.
Talk to your doctor
While most people benefit from getting a flu shot, it’s wise to ask questions and take an active role in your health. If you’re concerned about flu vaccinations, talk to your doctor. With knowledge of your health conditions, a medical professional can advise you on the best next steps to take during flu season.