4 Flu Vaccine Myths Debunked

Get the facts about the flu vaccine and get vaccinated

A woman gets a flu shot on her left shoulder.

Get the facts about the flu vaccine and get vaccinated

For one reason or another — often it is misinformation — many people will not get a flu shot this year. It’s unfortunate because the flu shot is the best way to reduce your chances of getting the flu and spreading it to others.

“Some don’t believe the flu is a real threat to them. Others don’t trust the vaccine to do its job,” says Cynthia Wilson, DO, a family medicine physician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Carlsbad.

False information about flu vaccines can be dangerous, especially when it causes people who are at high risk for flu complications to skip getting a flu shot.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone ages six months or older get vaccinated, especially adults 65 years and older, adults with certain chronic conditions, such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease and pregnant people.

The following are flu myths that are cleared up with facts about their safety and effectiveness.

Myth # 1. The flu vaccine can give you the flu

Flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle are made with inactivated virus particles, so they can’t transmit infection.

It is possible to get the flu after a flu shot — though there is usually a simple explanation.

Some people who get the flu after vaccination may have been exposed to the virus before getting their shot or during the time their body was developing protection from vaccination.

“It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza,” Dr. Wilson says.

Myth # 2. The flu vaccine is dangerous

Flu vaccines are safe. Millions of people have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years. All flu vaccines meet Food and Drug Administration safety and effectiveness requirements.

Be aware that any vaccine can cause side effects, including the flu vaccine.

“All vaccines stimulate the immune system and can occasionally cause mild muscle aches and a low-grade fever,” Dr. Wilson says. “Flu vaccine symptoms are very rare, mild in nature and are nothing compared to influenza illness,” Dr. Wilson says.

While the flu vaccine is extremely safe for most people, certain people are at a special risk and should not get a flu shot.

If you have a severe, (life-threatening) allergy to eggs or have had Guillain-Barré syndrome, the CDC recommends skipping the seasonal shot. People who are moderately or severely ill should also wait until they recover before getting the flu vaccine.

There are other ways to protect yourself and those around you from the flu when you cannot get the flu shot, including:

  • Wear a face mask when out in public
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Watch out for flu symptoms (headache, cough, congestion, chills, fever, body aches)
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Stay at home if you're sick.

Myth # 3. You don’t need the flu vaccine if you are young and healthy

Even if you are not at risk for severe complications from the flu, you can still get sick even if you only experience mild symptoms and also become contagious. Most people who get the flu recover in a few days to two weeks, which usually means time missed from work, school or family events.

Vaccines create herd immunity, which helps protect people around you. When a critical mass of community members is immunized against the flu, most members of the community are protected since there are fewer sick people passing the illness to others.

Myth # 4. The vaccine isn’t effective

The flu vaccine works very well. While it isn’t 100 percent effective guarding against the flu, the flu shot is highly effective at reducing your risk of getting it.

Studies show flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by 40 to 60 percent among the overall population. Protection varies depending on who is being vaccinated, according to the CDC.

“The flu vaccine remains the best defense we have against a potentially lethal disease,” Dr. Wilson says.

Where can you get a flu shot?

Flu shots are currently available at most Scripps and Scripps Coastal primary care sites across San Diego County.

Scripps patients can use the MyScripps portal to schedule a visit to their primary care physician to receive the flu vaccination, as well as vaccines for other illnesses, such as pneumonia, or they can call their physician’s office directly.

You may also visit the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder to find a vaccine location near you. Type in your zip code and you’ll find a list of local pharmacies, grocery stores and clinics that offer flu vaccinations.

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