Even though flu shots have been given for many years, there is still plenty of misinformation surrounding the vaccine. Here are some of the common myths and the facts behind them.
1) The flu vaccine can give you the flu. False.
The flu shot is made with a) an inactivated virus that cannot be infectious or b) no viruses at all. The most common side effects are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur.
The nasal spray vaccine is made with a weakened virus that cannot cause the flu and cannot exist in the warmer temperatures of the lungs. The nasal spray's most commonly reported side effects are mild and include runny nose, nasal congestion and cough.
2) You can still get the flu even if you were vaccinated. True.
The vaccine is your best source of flu prevention; however, you can still become ill if:
a) you are infected by a strain not included in the vaccine,
b) you are exposed to the flu virus before being vaccinated or during the two-week period your body needs to develop immunity after vaccination,
c) you are infected by a different illness that causes flu-like symptoms, or
d) you get the flu. While the vaccine is your best chance at prevention and greatly decreases your risk, it doesn't provide 100% guaranteed protection against the flu, especially in those have weakened immune systems.
"This is why good hygiene practices, including covering your cough, washing hands and limiting contact with others when ill, is so important even with the help of powerful tools like the flu vaccine," said Elisabeth Anumu, MD, Family Practice physician at Monroe Clinic-Lena.
3) It is better to get the flu than the flu vaccine. False.
While many people can recover from the flu in under 2 weeks, others will develop flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections, or a severe worsening of chronic health problems. People with asthma or heart problems can experience serious symptoms when infected with the flu. In turn, this can lead to hospitalizations or even death. Young children, pregnant women, older adults and people with chronic health problems are most at risk for flu-related complications, especially if unvaccinated.
4) If you don't get vaccinated early in the fall, it's not worth get vaccinated at all. False.
Yes, it's best to get vaccinated early in the flu season, when you can reap the most benefits of its protection. However, the flu season usually peaks in January or February most years, and it can occur as late as May.
5) There are people who should not get the flu vaccine. True.
Due to certain allergies and specific illnesses (such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome), some people should not get vaccinated. Also, people should not get vaccinated while they are experiencing respiratory illness or fever.
Infants younger than 6 months are at higher risk of serious flu complications, yet they are too young to get a flu vaccine. However, studies show vaccinating pregnant women helped provide protection to the baby after birth and prevent hospitalization.
"The fact that some people cannot get the vaccine makes the vaccination of those around them all the more important. Getting vaccinated not only helps protect your health. It may be protecting the health of your child, grandparent or other vulnerable populations," said Dr. Anumu.