The flu shot is inexpensive, readily available, and indicated for people ages 6 months and up. However, each year more than half of the U.S. population does not get a flu shot, often because they believe widespread myths about the flu shot.
With COVID-19 circulating this fall, getting a flu shot is more important than ever. Here are some of the most common myths we hear from patients, and the facts that help undo widespread misinformation.
1. The flu shot can give me the flu.
The flu shot is not a live vaccine, so it is impossible to contract influenza from a flu shot. In some patients, the flu shot can cause mild body aches and a low-grade fever, which is simply the immune system’s normal response to being exposed to the inactive viral particles in the vaccine.
Influenza can sometimes be prevented by getting the flu shot. Some people do go on to develop influenza after they’ve gotten a flu shot because the flu shot doesn’t protect against all strains of the flu. Each year’s flu shot contains only four out of more than 100 possible strains of influenza.
2. If I’m healthy, I don’t need to get one.
It’s true that young children, elderly people, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing conditions are most vulnerable to flu complications. However, there are two reasons why healthy people should get a flu shot.
The first reason is that healthy people can be carriers of the flu. This means that even if you have no symptoms of the flu and your immune system is healthy enough to ward off the virus, you can transmit the virus to more susceptible people without knowing it. To protect the vulnerable people in your life, it’s highly recommended to get a flu shot every year.
The second reason to get a flu shot is that even if you’re not in a high-risk group, you can still develop life-threatening complications from influenza, including dehydration, sepsis, pneumonia, and respiratory failure.
3. I’ve gotten a flu shot in the past, so I don’t need another one.
Even if you’ve gotten a flu shot in previous years, you should still get a new flu shot every fall because there are more than 100 strains of influenza, but only four strains can be included in each year’s flu shot.
Researchers spend the year tracking flu strains around the globe, determining which four strains are most likely to reach the U.S. at the beginning of our cold & flu season, and incorporating those strains into that year’s flu shot. Because these strains vary from year to year, it’s important to get a new flu shot every year.
4. The flu shot doesn’t do much.
The flu shot has been readily available for decades now, so to many people, it seems commonplace and unimportant. However, it’s critical to remember that influenza has serious consequences, and the flu shot can effectively prevent or mitigate them.
Each year the flu shot lowers the rate of influenza deaths by more than 20% and lowers the rate of hospitalizations from flu-related complications by 70%.
So, while getting a flu shot can seem like a trivial step to take for your health, it can literally save your life and the lives of those around you.
5. I’ll wait until I get exposed to the flu to get a flu shot.
Common mistake patients often make is that they come in for a flu shot after someone around them has come down with the flu. The problem with this approach is that it takes 7-14 days to build up an adequate level of antibodies after you’ve gotten the flu shot. So, it’s best to get your flu shot when it becomes available in the early fall before you’ve been exposed to someone who has the flu.
Share the most surprising myth with your friends and family to help remind them to get their annual flu shot. At GoHealth Urgent Care, we’re open 7 days a week to care for you, and we have flu shots for the whole family!
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant