- Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines
- Misconceptions about Flu Vaccines
- Can a flu vaccine give you the flu?
- Are any of the available flu vaccines recommended over the others?
- Is it better to get the flu than the flu vaccine?
- Do I really need a flu vaccine every year?
- Why do some people not feel well after getting the seasonal flu vaccine?
- What about serious reactions to flu vaccine?
- What about people who get a seasonal flu vaccine and still get sick with flu symptoms?
- Can vaccinating someone twice provide added immunity?
- Is it true that getting a flu vaccine can make you more susceptible to other respiratory viruses?
- Misconceptions about Flu Vaccine Effectiveness
- Misconceptions about the Timing of Seasonal Influenza Vaccination
- Misconceptions about Physician Consent for Vaccination
- Misconceptions about “Stomach Flu”
- Misconceptions about Flu Vaccines
- Can the Flu Shot Make You Sick?
- Worried About Getting the Flu Shot This Year?
- Common flu shot side effects include:
- Flu shot side effects you should worry about:
- What’s new with the 2019-2020 flu vaccine?
- How common are side effects?
- Side Effects of the FluMist vaccine include:
- Why Are People So Scared of Flu Shots (and Do They Have a Point?)
- Well, the flu shot DOES have a questionable past.
- And that swine flu scandal definitely didn’t help.
- … nor did that other swine flu scandal.
- But there’s plenty of good flu news.
- So, if the shot is safe, why do we all resist getting it every year?
- It’s true that the flu shot isn’t nearly as effective as we want it to be.
- Let’s bust some flu vaccine myths.
- And by getting the shot, you’re helping your whole community.
- Don’t Be Afraid of the Flu Shot: Debunking 6 Common Misconceptions
- 1. I don’t know what is in a flu shot.
- 2. The flu shot causes the flu.
- 3. Flu shots are painful.
- 4. Shots don’t really provide flu prevention.
- 5. I don’t need a flu shot.
- 6. It’s better to get the flu than the flu vaccine.
- 5 Tips for Surviving Shots
Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines
Misconceptions about Flu Vaccines
Can a flu vaccine give you the flu?
No, flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle (i.e., flu shots) are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and that therefore are not infectious, or b) using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection. This is the case for recombinant influenza vaccines.
Are any of the available flu vaccines recommended over the others?
For the 2019-2020 flu season, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends annual influenza (flu) vaccination for everyone 6 months and older with any licensed, influenza vaccine that is appropriate for the recipient’s age and health status, including inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV), recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV), or live attenuated nasal spray influenza vaccine (LAIV4) with no preference expressed for any one vaccine over another.
There are many vaccine options to choose from, but the most important thing is for all people 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine every year. If you have questions about which vaccine is best for you, talk to your doctor or other health care professional.
Is it better to get the flu than the flu vaccine?
No. Flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes. Any flu infection can carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death, even among otherwise healthy children and adults. Therefore, getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking illness to obtain immune protection.
Do I really need a flu vaccine every year?
Yes. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for just about everyone 6 months and older, even when the viruses the vaccine protects against have not changed from the previous season. The reason for this is that a person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get the “optimal” or best protection against the flu.
Why do some people not feel well after getting the seasonal flu vaccine?
Some people report having mild reactions to flu vaccination. The most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days. In randomized, blinded studies, where some people get inactivated flu shots and others get salt-water shots, the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat.
Side effects from the nasal spray flu vaccine may include: runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, sore throat and cough. If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after vaccination and are mild and short-lived. The most common reactions people have to flu vaccines are considerably less severe than the symptoms caused by actual flu illness.
- Carolyn Bridges et al. (2000). Effectiveness and cost-benefit of influenza vaccination of healthy working adults: A randomized controlled trialexternal icon.
- Kristin Nichol et al. (1995). The effectiveness of vaccination against influenza in healthy working adultsexternal icon. New England Journal of Medicine. 333(14): 889-893.
What about serious reactions to flu vaccine?
Serious allergic reactions to flu vaccines are very rare. If they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination. While these reactions can be life-threatening, effective treatments are available.
What about people who get a seasonal flu vaccine and still get sick with flu symptoms?
There are several reasons why someone might get a flu symptoms, even after they have been vaccinated against flu.
- One reason is that some people can become ill from other respiratory viruses besides flu such as rhinoviruses, which are associated with the common cold, cause symptoms similar to flu, and also spread and cause illness during the flu season. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza, not other illnesses.
- Another explanation is that it is possible to be exposed to influenza viruses, which cause the flu, shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.
- A third reason why some people may experience flu like symptoms despite getting vaccinated is that they may have been exposed to a flu virus that is very different from the viruses the vaccine is designed to protect against. The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends largely on the similarity or “match” between the viruses selected to make the vaccine and those spreading and causing illness. There are many different flu viruses that spread and cause illness among people. For more information, see Influenza (Flu) Viruses.
- The final explanation for experiencing flu symptoms after vaccination is that the flu vaccine can vary in how well it works and some people who get vaccinated may still get sick.
Can vaccinating someone twice provide added immunity?
In adults, studies have not shown a benefit from getting more than one dose of vaccine during the same influenza season, even among elderly persons with weakened immune systems. Except for some children, only one dose of flu vaccine is recommended each season.
Is it true that getting a flu vaccine can make you more susceptible to other respiratory viruses?
There was one studyexternal icon (published in 2012) that suggested that influenza vaccination might make people more susceptible to other respiratory infections. After that study was published, many experts looked into this issue further and conducted additional studies to see if the findings could be replicated. No other studies have found this effect. For example, this article external icon in Clinical Infectious Diseases (published in 2013). It’s not clear why this finding was detected in the one study, but the preponderance of evidence suggests that this is not a common or regular occurrence and that influenza vaccination does not, in fact, make people more susceptible to other respiratory infections.
Misconceptions about Flu Vaccine Effectiveness
Influenza (flu) vaccine effectiveness (VE) can vary. The protection provided by a flu vaccine depends on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or “match” between the viruses in the vaccine and those in circulation. For more information, see Vaccine Effectiveness – How well does the Flu Vaccine Work. For information specific to this season, visit About the Current Flu Season.
There are many reasons to get an influenza (flu) vaccine each year. Below is a summary of the benefits of flu vaccination, and selected scientific studies that support these benefits.
- Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick with flu.
- Flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctor’s visits each year. For example, during 2017-2018, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 6.2 million influenza illnesses, 3.2 million influenza-associated medical visits, 91,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 5,700 influenza-associated deaths.
- During seasons when the flu vaccine viruses are similar to circulating flu viruses, flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40 percent to 60 percent.
- Flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working age adults, and older adults.
- Flu vaccine prevents tens of thousands of hospitalizations each year. For example, during 2017-2018, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 91,000 flu-related hospitalizations.
- A 2014 studyexternal icon showed that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74% during flu seasons from 2010-2012.
- In recent years, flu vaccines have reduced the risk of flu-associated hospitalizations among older adultsexternal icon on average by about 40%.
- A 2018 study showed that from 2012 to 2015, flu vaccination among adults reduced the risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) with flu by 82 percent.
- Flu vaccination is an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions.
- Flu vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac eventsexternal icon among people with heart disease, especially among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year.
- Flu vaccination can reduce worsening and hospitalization for flu-related chronic lung disease, such as in persons with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Flu vaccination also has been shown in separate studies to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetesexternal icon and chronic lung diseaseexternal icon.
- Flu vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy.
- Vaccination reduces the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant women by about one-half.
- A 2018 studyexternal icon that included influenza seasons from 2010-2016 showed that getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with flu by an average of 40 percent.
- A number of studies have shown that in addition to helping to protect pregnant women, a flu vaccine given during pregnancy helps protect the baby from flu for several months after birth, when he or she is not old enough to be vaccinated.
- Flu vaccine can be life-saving in children.
- A 2017 study was the first of its kind to show that flu vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from flu.
- Flu vaccination has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.
- A 2017 study showed that flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients.
- A 2018 studyexternal icon showed that among adults hospitalized with flu, vaccinated patients were 59 percent less likely to be admitted to the ICU than those who had not been vaccinated. Among adults in the ICU with flu, vaccinated patients on average spent 4 fewer days in the hospital than those who were not vaccinated.
- Getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions.
*References for the studies listed above can be found at Publications on Influenza Vaccine Benefits. Also, see the A Strong Defense Against Flu: Get Vaccinated! pdf icon fact sheet.
Misconceptions about the Timing of Seasonal Influenza Vaccination
Should I wait to get vaccinated so that my immunity lasts through the end of the season?
CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial. As long as flu viruses are circulating, it is not too late to get vaccinated, even in January or later. While seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu virus infection, it is best that people get vaccinated in time to be protected before flu viruses begin spreading in their community.
How long you are immune or your “duration of immunity” is discussed in the ACIP recommendations. While delaying getting of vaccine until later in the fall may lead to higher levels of immunity during winter months, this should be balanced against possible risks, such as missed opportunities to receive vaccine and difficulties associated with vaccinating a large number of people within a shorter time period.
Is it too late to get vaccinated after Thanksgiving (or the end of November)?
No. Vaccination can still be beneficial as long as flu viruses are circulating. If you have not been vaccinated by Thanksgiving (or the end of November), it can still be protective to get vaccinated in December or later. Flu is unpredictable and seasons can vary. Seasonal flu disease usually peaks between December and March most years, but disease can occur as late as May.
Misconceptions about Physician Consent for Vaccination
Do pregnant women or people with pre-existing medical conditions need special permission or written consent from their doctor to receive the flu vaccine?
No. There is no recommendation for pregnant women or people with pre-existing medical conditions to seek special permission or secure written consent from their doctor for vaccination if they get vaccinated at a worksite clinic, pharmacy or other location outside of their physician’s office. With rare exception, CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older, including pregnant women and people with medical conditions.
A variety of flu vaccine products are available (Table 1). Vaccine providers should be aware of the approved age indications of the vaccine they are using and of any contraindications or precautions. Providers also should appropriately screen all people getting vaccinated for allergies to vaccine components or other contraindications. People who have previously had a severe allergic reaction to influenza vaccine or any of its ingredients should generally not be vaccinated.
There are some people who should not get a flu vaccine without first speaking with their doctor. These include:
- People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with or without a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated), and
- People with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS) that occurred after receiving influenza vaccine and who are not at risk for severe illness from influenza should generally not receive vaccine. Tell your doctor if you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Your doctor will help you decide whether the vaccine is recommended for you.
Pregnant women or people with pre-existing medical conditions who get vaccinated should get the flu shot.
If a person is vaccinated by someone other than their primary health care provider, the vaccinating provider should ensure that the patient and, if possible, the patient’s medical provider have documentation of vaccination.
For a complete list of people who should not get the vaccine before speaking with their doctor, please review the influenza Vaccine Information Statement for the flu shot.
Misconceptions about “Stomach Flu”
Is the “stomach flu” really the flu?
No. Many people use the term “stomach flu” to describe illnesses with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria or even parasites. While vomiting, diarrhea, and being nauseous or “sick to your stomach” can sometimes be related to the flu — more commonly in children than adults — these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza. The flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease.
Can the Flu Shot Make You Sick?
Have you ever gotten the flu shot and felt a little sick afterward? You’re not alone. Many people feel under the weather after receiving the vaccine, causing them to wonder,
“Can the flu shot make you sick?”
The short answer is no, you can’t get the flu from the flu shot.
However, you can get flu shot side effects that feel almost flu-like.
Worried About Getting the Flu Shot This Year?
Although the annual flu epidemic has become as regular as the changing of the seasons, it’s not necessarily predictable.
In fact, because the timing, severity, and length of flu season varies from year to year, it’s impossible to guess what this one will be like.
That said, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an annual flu shot for everyone 6 months of age and older to reduce the risk of illness — and to help avoid spreading the influenza virus to others.
The flu shot contains an inactive flu virus that consists of only half the virus — the part needed to cause an immune response. After getting the flu shot, most people have some flu shot side effects, including redness and soreness at the injection site.
These normal symptoms usually last for only a day or two.
Why Does It Feel Like I Have the Flu?
You may also experience other flu shot side effects, like a low-grade fever, body aches, headache, and an overall feeling of illness that many people mistake for the flu. These symptoms are the body’s normal immune response to the inactivated virus in the vaccine.
If experienced at all, these effects — which are much less severe than actual influenza — usually last for only one or two days after vaccination. So, although you may feel sick, you don’t have the flu. To alleviate flu shot side effects, try to stay hydrated and take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Is It Risky Not to Get a Flu Shot?
The CDC estimates that each year, up to 20 percent of all Americans will contract the influenza virus, and more than 200,000 will be hospitalized due to flu-related complications.
Experts considered the 2017-2018 flu season severe, with high levels of outpatient clinic and emergency department visits, high hospitalization rates, and elevated and geographically widespread influenza activity for an extended period.
Read more here on preparing for the upcoming flu season.
Children were especially affected.
In the United States, a record number of children died from flu last year, and approximately 80% of those deaths occurred in children who did not receive the flu vaccine.
Influenza also poses significant risks to the elderly and those with immune system complications.
Even if you’re not considered high risk, it’s important to get immunized to protect those who can become extremely ill if exposed to the flu virus.
Thankfully, flu shots — the best way to avoid the flu — are readily available at your local GoHealth Urgent Care center.
A few days of flu shot side effects is a small price to pay to keep yourself and others healthy and safe.
And the actual price of a flu shot is also small: GoHealth Urgent Care offers flu shots for free with insurance.*
Walk in today or save your spot online. Select your location below and find an urgent care center near you to check-in online.
See our prices on co-pays and same-day visits, with and without insurance.
GoHealth Urgent Care partners with these regional healthcare providers:
- Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in New York
- Dignity Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in San Francisco
- Legacy-GoHealth Urgent Care in Portland & Vancouver
- Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care in Connecticut
- Mercy-GoHealth Urgent Care in Arkansas, Springfield, St. Louis & Oklahoma
- Novant Health-GoHealth Urgent Care in North Carolina
* Flu shots are free with most insurance plans or offered as a discount in most GoHealth Urgent Care markets, except in New York (Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care), where they are $20 regardless of insurance coverage.
- The flu shot will not actually give you the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
- However, people who get the flu shot may experience muscle soreness, fever or nausea.
- The CDC recommends getting vaccinated as soon as the shot is available in your area. Generally, it’s best to get vaccinated by November.
You get the flu shot to ward off getting sick, but feeling crappy is a common side effect of the vaccine.
Many people mistakenly believe this is because the flu shot causes you to come down with the virus. In fact, according to a 2015 study of 1,000 people published in Vaccine, 43 percent believed that getting the flu vaccine could give you the flu.
“The flu shot is a killed flu virus that consists of only half of the virus—the part you need to make an immune response to,” Andrew Pekosz, Ph.D., professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, explained to Men’s Health. “It’s also then administered into your arm muscle, which is not a place the flu virus normally goes to. So there is no possibility you can get the flu from the flu shot.”
However, you could experience discomfort from the shot itself, which are very similar to symptoms of the flu.
Common flu shot side effects include:
- Pain, redness or swelling near the shot
- Sore muscles
“Most people have a little redness and soreness at the site of the inoculation. These are normal symptoms and are due in part to your body’s immune system reacting to the vaccine,” Pekosz said.
Flu shot side effects you should worry about:
Although extremely rare, it is possible to develop an allergic reaction to the flu shot. Typically, signs appear a few minutes of receiving the vaccine and include:
- Trouble breathing
- Swelling around eyes or mouth
- Feeling weak
What’s new with the 2019-2020 flu vaccine?
There are many types of flu viruses–and each consistently changes. This means that the U.S. flu vaccines are reviewed every year to prevent against the currently circulating flu viruses. The flu vaccine protect against three or four viruses that researchers believe will be most prevalent. Trivalent, or three-component vaccines for the upcoming flu season will protect against the following:
- A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus
- A/Kansas/14/2017 (H3N2)-like virus
- B/Colorado/06/2017-like (Victoria lineage) virus
Additionally, some vaccines may also protect against the B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (Yamagata lineage) virus.
This is slightly different from last year’s protection, which included:
This year’s flu season updates can be found on the https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/flu-season-2019-2020.htm
How common are side effects?
Roughly 23 percent of healthcare workers who received the H1N1 vaccine reported generalized pain or low back pain, a 2011 study in Vaccine found.
A shot is the traditional method for vaccination, but people may opt for the FluMist vaccine, administered by a nasal spray.
Side Effects of the FluMist vaccine include:
- Runny nose or nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Sore muscles
- Decreased Appetite
The CDC does not recommend one particular method, but the FluMist was not recommended for people who are pregnant, younger than two years old or older than 50, people with weak immune systems, or children with asthma.
Thankfully, symptoms don’t last long. “Usually these don’t last for more than a day or two,” Pekosz said.
In rare cases, some may experience an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Symptoms include trouble breathing, hives, swelling around the eye or mouth area, weakness or dizziness. Typically, these symptoms occur within a few minutes to hours after the vaccine was given.
If you’re really feeling sick for a sustained amount of time afterwards, well, you probably just caught another virus that the flu vaccine doesn’t protect you against.
“The flu vaccine protects against influenza virus, but there are a number of other viruses that can cause a flu-like disease,” Pekosz said. “Viruses like human parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and coronaviruses all circulate in fall and early winter, the time that flu vaccination programs are in full-swing.” These viruses and their symptoms usually last two to eight days.
Paul BradburyGetty Images
Bottom line: It’s normal to feel soreness, redness, tenderness, or even develop a mild fever or body aches during the two days after you get vaccinated—that’s just your immune response, not the flu illness itself.
So there’s no reason to avoid getting the flu shot because you think it’ll make you sick. Unless you have severe or life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredients in it, you should roll up your sleeves for one each year, the CDC says (People with severe allergies, those who have had Guillain-Barré syndrome, or who feel ill should talk to their doctor first).
A day or two—at most—of a little discomfort is a small price to pay for helping prevent getting sick with the flu. While most people will recover from the flu within several days to two weeks, some people can develop complications from the virus, which can include sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis), or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis). It can even be deadly.
Emily Shiffer Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men’s Health and Prevention, and is currently a freelancer writer specializing in health, weight loss, and fitness. Melissa Matthews Health Writer Melissa Matthews is the Health Writer at Men’s Health, covering the latest in food, nutrition, and health.
Why Are People So Scared of Flu Shots (and Do They Have a Point?)
Not quite as celebrated as the holiday season, flu season is real, and it’s back for its annual visit. Thankfully, these days, we have a flu vaccine to save us all from suffering through influenza. But every year, people are hesitant to get the inoculation. In 2016, only 48.6 percent of the population got a flu shot, which means that more than half of all Americans went unprotected against this common, incredibly unpleasant virus.
Many people view the flu shot with indifference or fear. If you think, I never get the flu, so I don’t need the shot, or believe that the shot itself will actually make you sick, you’re not alone. But at the same time, it seems strange that we’d be so resistant to a vaccine that can stop us from getting sick—I mean, if someone invented a shot that eliminated mildly annoying headaches, I’d be first in line. So why would we rather risk contracting a miserable and dangerous illness than take a shot that many doctors practically give away?
Well, the flu shot DOES have a questionable past.
Though “Get Your Flu Shot Today” posters have only been bombarding us for about the last ten years, flu shots have actually been around since 1942.The evolving history of influenza viruses and influenza vaccines. Hannoun C. Expert review of vaccines, 2013, Sep.;12(9):1744-8395. Jonas Salk first cut his teeth inventing the flu vaccine, before he became inoculation-famous with his polio vaccine in 1952. But the flu shot, which in its early incarnation was used primarily on WWII soldiers, didn’t work that often.
Of course, it doesn’t always work today, but it was really problematic then: Every year, the vaccine protects against the strains of influenza virus that are included in the vaccine, but the flu is a tricky little scamp. The strains that make us sick every year don’t stay the same. So the WHO has to make an educated guess about which strains are most likely to be prominent that year. Though the WHO collects year-round flu surveillance from over 100 sites around the world, they still have to make the vaccine in advance of the actual flu season.
Theirs is an incredibly thorough process, and often they use the data available to pick the right strains, stopping scores of people from dealing with this seasonal illness. But the WHO ain’t Nostradamus, and they can’t always predict ahead of time which strains will strike. When they guess wrong, the flu shot is much less effective.
And that swine flu scandal definitely didn’t help.
In 1976, a scary-looking swine flu popped up, and the Center for Disease Control feared we’d be struck by another flu pandemic, like the 1918 one that killed some 50 million people. So the U.S. government rushed out a mass inoculation campaign. But the swine flu epidemic never happened, and instead, 450 people contracted Guillain-Barre syndrome after receiving the shot. Combine the fear about swine flu spread by the government, the non arrival of the flu pandemic, and a spike in a rare neurological disorder, and it’s no wonder people were hesitant to get a flu vaccine.
Of course, the number of people who contracted Guillain-Barre was a tiny percentage of overall flu shot recipients, and nowadays, the CDC insists that there’s no tie between the vaccine and the disorder. Still, it didn’t instill a lot of confidence.
… nor did that other swine flu scandal.
Another controversy hit as recently as 2009: To fight the vicious swine flu (H1N1) outbreak in Europe, a specific H1N1 vaccine was created. Unfortunately, it came with a side effect: narcolepsy. Around 1,300 people developed narcolepsy, an incurable sleeping disorder, after getting the H1N1 shot. This particular shot was never used in the U.S., and there have been no reported links between the American H1N1 shots and narcolepsy. Still, it made people once again wary of the vaccine.
But there’s plenty of good flu news.
To be clear, I’m not bringing up the scandals of flu shots past to scare you. The instances of Guillain-Barre and narcolepsy occured in a very low percentage of people who received the flu shot, but learning about the vaccine’s past can help us understand why we as a culture tend to think of the flu shot as either dangerous or “meh.”
Flu shots have improved year after year, and now they’re safe for almost everybody. In years past, the inoculation was grown in chicken eggs, so people with severe egg allergies could potentially have reactions. Now they’ve made a flu shot that doesn’t use eggs at all, so you can get it despite having pretty much any allergy. Even pregnant women can get a flu shot; in fact, getting the flu while pregnant is dangerous, so the vaccine stops the likelihood of the illness and protects the baby. A pregnant mom actually passes the flu immunity to her child, too, which lessens the chance that parents have to experience the nightmare of a one-month-old catching influenza.
Even though the shot is better now, it’s easy for most of us to brush off the risk of contracting the flu. For a healthy adult, it can seem like a harmless disease that just makes life suck for a couple of days, but it’s actually a serious business. It’s hard to say how many people die from the flu each year, since the cause of death is often from things brought on by the flu, but the CDC estimates it kills anywhere from 3,300-49,000 people every year.
Yeah, the flu is more harmful for children, the elderly, or people with compromised immune systems. Still, that doesn’t mean healthy people should avoid the shot. When healthy people get the vaccine, it helps increase herd immunity; some people are too sick (or too young) to get the flu shot, but if everyone around them gets the shot and doesn’t get the flu, then those unvaccinated people will stay healthy. Basically, you’re not just getting the shot for yourself, you’re getting the shot to protect everybody else.
So, if the shot is safe, why do we all resist getting it every year?
I’m a total supporter of vaccines, yet every year when it’s time to get the shot, I act like you’ve asked me to help you move. During a snowstorm. On a holiday weekend. Basically, I’m annoyed and reluctant, the shot’s a hassle, and it never seems that necessary.
My skepticism might come from the flu shot’s not-so-perfect track record. I’m not talking about Guillain-Barre or narcolepsy incidents. I’m referring back to that one basic problem with the flu shot: It doesn’t always work.
It’s true that the flu shot isn’t nearly as effective as we want it to be.
Even the best flu shot only protects 60 percent of vaccinated people, but when it’s really off, the efficacy sits around 10 percent. So it’s totally possible that you’ll haul yourself into the doctor’s office or pharmacy, pay up to $40, get a needle jabbed in your arm, and still get the flu!
How many times have you seen somebody get the measles shot, then complain about getting laid up with a bad case of measles three months later? Probably zero. Sure, that shot’s primarily given to babies, so it’s not like we’d hear them complain about it directly, but still. When you get two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine, the efficacy rate sits at 97 percent. That’s a lot more impressive than the flu shot’s lame-o 60 percent rate.
The Journal of the American Medical Association performed a study in 2000 about the efficacy and cost benefits of the flu shot. They found that the shot is incredibly effective for people over 65. But for everybody else? The study concluded that a well-matched flu shot reduced lost work days and visits to the doctor, but in most years, the vaccine hasn’t been well matched, which means the vaccine didn’t often provide any economic advantage for working adults. Basically, it’s clear the flu shot is good for the elderly, but for healthy, young people, it’s kind of a draw.
As recently as 2016, a version of the flu shot was retracted. In the past few years, you could get the regular shot or use a nasal spray. The spray was especially good for kids, since children and needles aren’t usually a happy combo. But for 2016-2017, the CDC removed the nasal spray entirely. Why? Turns out from 2013-2016, it hardly worked at all.
Let’s bust some flu vaccine myths.
1. The flu shot makes you sick.
Another thing that keeps people from getting vaccinated every year are prevailing myths around the shot. The biggest one: that the flu shot makes you sick. We’ve all heard this, and it’s probably kept some of us from heading to the doctor to get our annual vaccine.
Guess what? It’s not true. Lots of people think the vaccine is made from live flu viruses. Nope! The shot is made from inactivated (read: dead) forms of the virus, or made with no virus at all, according to the CDC. In a blind study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the only side effects from the vaccine were soreness or swelling in the spot where you got the shot. This happens when your immune system responds to the vaccine, and it’s a good thing. The soreness is usually mild and goes away after a few days. So you might get a sore arm, but you definitely won’t get the flu from a flu vaccine.
“But I got the flu right after I got the flu shot!” some might say. In that case, that person already had the flu. It’s not uncommon to carry the virus without symptoms at the time you’re vaccinated. Then, when the fever and achiness pop up, it’s easy to blame it on the shot. But it’s just crappy timing.
2. The flu shot weakens your immunity.
In this line of thinking, it’s better to just get the flu and deal with it. Again, not true. Since flu strains change every year, suffering through the flu only protects you against future attacks of that one strain. Plus, your body’s immunity weakens over time, so when the new strain comes along next season, you’ll be just as susceptible as everyone else. And the flu shot doesn’t weaken your immunity. It makes you immune to a strain of the flu. Just because your immune system didn’t fight off the virus itself doesn’t mean the immunity is any less effective.
3. The flu is no problem because you can just pop some antibiotics.
No can do, friend! Influenza is a virus; antibiotics only kill bacterial infections. You can take Z-packs all day and all night—it won’t do jack to make your flu go away. Sometimes the virus weakens your system, and you end up with the flu and a bacterial infection. In that case, antibiotics would be prescribed, but they still won’t kill your flu. That’s what makes influenza so miserable—there’s nothing you can do. You just have to sip on Theraflu and wait it out.
So, yeah, even though the flu shot is far from perfect, you should still get one. I know, it’s a pain. I avoided them for years, mostly due to laziness and ignorance. But this year, I got the shot early and I’m glad. If you can avoid a week of fevers, aches, and a nose full of fluid—why not? Sure, there’s a chance you’ll still get the flu, but there’s also a chance you’ll avoid an illness that could cost you lots of sick days.
And by getting the shot, you’re helping your whole community.
But the most important reason to get vaccinated is for the people who can’t get the shot. Herd immunity is important. For people with compromised immune systems, the flu can be deadly. So when you get the shot, you’re helping someone else stay healthy. If you’re not sure where to find the vaccine, ask your doctor. If you’re insured, the shot should be free. If you’re not insured, you still have options. Where I live, in Los Angeles, local libraries are giving out flu shots for free. In other locations, check out local health centers or college campuses. They’ll often have drives for free or low-priced shots. If all else fails, you can get low-cost vaccines at pharmacies around the country.
I know the flu shot sucks. With its problematic past and inconsistent present, I totally get that you’re not skipping down to the doctor to happily await your vaccine. But at the end of the day, it still stops thousands of people from getting sick with no real risk of side effects. So you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and take the shot. You’ll likely have a year free of the flu, and will definitely help keep others healthy. That’s worth a sore arm once a year.
Amber Petty is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. If you like easy crafts and Simpsons gifs, check out her blog Half-Assed Crafts.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Flu Shot: Debunking 6 Common Misconceptions
When it comes to flu prevention, there’s one truth to remember: flu shots are a proven method of stopping the spread of influenza. Despite flu vaccine effectiveness and affordability, fewer than half of Americans have been vaccinated as of September 2017. Many people choose to not get a flu shot due to fear or misinformation. This makes it especially important for everyone to get educated about flu shot effectiveness and safety. To protect the health of the Florida community, MD Now Urgent Care is currently offering influenza vaccines at all of its locations. Shots are available between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day, including holidays. No appointments are necessary. And while Flu shots may be covered by some insurances, MD Now Urgent care also offers patients a discount coupon.
So, why do so many Americans avoid getting this potentially lifesaving vaccine despite proven flu vaccine effectiveness? In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common misconceptions about flu prevention, helping you put your fears to rest.
1. I don’t know what is in a flu shot.
Are the ingredients dangerous? Understanding the components inside a flu shot can help you overcome any anxieties you feel toward the vaccine. So, what is in a flu shot? The flu shot is created using an inactive virus that cannot cause infection. The flu shot simply introduces your body to the killed virus, allowing your immune system to become resistant to a live virus. After about two weeks, the flu shot effectiveness reaches peak levels, protecting you throughout the season.
People with allergies, especially those who are allergic to eggs, may also be concerned about what is in a flu shot. Fortunately, people with egg allergies can be vaccinated in a medical setting, where an experienced provider can monitor their symptoms.
2. The flu shot causes the flu.
Simply put, a flu vaccine cannot cause the flu illness. As previously mentioned, vaccines administered through a shot are created with inactive viruses that are not infectious. While nasal vaccines are formulated with live viruses, the viruses used are weakened and cannot cause illness.
After you receive your flu shot, you may experience minor symptoms like soreness and redness around the site of the shot, or a low-grade fever. However, many people do not experience any symptoms after receiving a flu shot.
3. Flu shots are painful.
Many people avoid getting a flu shot because they’re afraid of needles and anticipate feeling pain. While these fears are understandable, the one or two seconds of sting that a flu shot might cause pales in comparison to the discomfort of the actual flu. Plus, modern flu vaccines contain smaller, shorter needles that can be injected into the skin instead of muscle. This eliminates a lot of the unpleasant sting that frightens many patients.
4. Shots don’t really provide flu prevention.
Flu shot effectiveness is another area of concern for those on the fence about whether to get a vaccine. Many patients believe that the shot isn’t effective enough to warrant getting one, but the opposite is true. Flu vaccine effectiveness this year is up to 50 percent, and even if you do get sick, your symptoms likely will be milder. The vaccine offers at least partial protection, lowering the chances of developing flu complications. Plus, when you receive a flu shot, you’re helping to protect the more vulnerable people around you, including children and the elderly.
5. I don’t need a flu shot.
While you might think that not everyone needs a flu shot, the reality is that the majority of people should receive one. The CDC recommends that adults and children over the age of 6 months receive a flu shot each year; however, there are exceptions. The following people should not receive a flu shot:
- Children under 6 months old
- Individuals who have had severe allergic reactions to flu vaccines in the past
- Those who developed Guillain-Barre syndrome within six weeks of inoculation in the past
If you are already sick, simply wait to receive your vaccine after the symptoms have passed. Having already been sick does not decrease flu shot effectiveness; vaccination can still provide flu prevention for the rest of the season.
6. It’s better to get the flu than the flu vaccine.
While you can become immune to the flu after catching a live virus, natural immunity is no substitute for a vaccine. Getting the flu can cause serious complications, especially if you have asthma, heart disease, or diabetes. Even otherwise healthy people can experience flu complications, making vaccination the safer choice.
Facing your fears and clearing up misconceptions about the flu shot can help you stay illness-free this flu season. If you have additional questions about flu vaccine effectiveness, contact your local MD Now Urgent Care center for more information.
To learn more about our urgent care centers, call 888-MDNow-911 or visit www.MDNow.com.
MD Now® Urgent Care Walk-In Medical Centers is the leading provider of fast and affordable urgent care to adults and children in Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami-Dade counties. Our state-of-the-art, walk-in medical centers are open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to deliver an affordable and convenient alternative to long emergency room wait times and the limited hours of family physicians. No appointment is necessary and major insurance plans are accepted. In addition to providing a comprehensive range of urgent care services to treat a variety of illnesses and injuries, our multiple locations offer digital x-rays, EKG, lab testing, physicals, immunizations, vaccines, occupational medicine, travel medicine and selected primary care services. Find the medical care you need with the convenience you want at MD Now. Call: 888-MDNow-911, online: www.MDNow.com.
5 Tips for Surviving Shots
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Do shots make you nervous? You’re not alone. Lots of people dread them because they have a very real fear of needles. So next time your doc asks you to roll up your sleeve, try these tips:
- Distract yourself while you’re waiting. Bring along a game, book, music, or movie — something you’ll get completely caught up in so you’re not sitting in the waiting room thinking about the shot. Some doctors’ offices schedule “shot clinics” where they do nothing but give shots so the wait time is shorter.
- Concentrate on taking slow, deep breaths. Breathe all the way down into your belly. Deep breathing can help people relax — and concentrating on something other than the shot can take your mind off it.
- Focus intently on something in the room. Find a picture, poster, or a sign on the wall. Concentrate on the details: If you’re looking at a painting, for example, try counting the number of flowers in the garden, cows in the field, or other images. Or create as many new words as you can using the lettering on a sign. Think about how the message on a health awareness poster might affect you. Whatever it takes, keep focusing on something other than the shot until it’s over.
- Cough. Research shows that coughing once before and once during the shot can help some people feel less pain.
- Relax your arm. If you’re tense, it can make a shot hurt more — especially if you tense up the area where you’re getting the shot.
Sometimes people feel lightheaded or faint after getting a shot. If you feel funny, sit or lie down and rest for 15 minutes.
Don’t hesitate to tell the doctor or nurse that you’re nervous before getting the shot. Medical professionals are used to people who are afraid of shots and they’ll be able to help you relax.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD Date reviewed: September 2018