4 Flu Shot Myths You Shouldn't Believe

This year over 100 million Americans will be infected with the influenza (flu) virus. Most of these cases can be avoided if people get vaccinated. Unfortunately, many people who should get the vaccine still aren't.

In Wisconsin, only 32 percent of adults aged 18-64 had the shot in 2013. This was less than in 2012 and is one reason the flu is on the rise in this group – traditionally they have been the most resistant to flu.

Knowledge is power

Many people choose not to get the flu vaccine due to the common myths associated with them. Here’s information to help you make an informed decision about getting a flu shot:

Myth #1: Flu shots give you the flu

Not true. The vaccine itself cannot give you the flu.

  • Flu shots are made from inactivated vaccine. Inactivated means dead. A dead virus cannot cause an infection.
  • Nasal vaccine (FluMist) contains “live” virus. The virus has been weakened so that it cannot give the flu to a healthy child or adult. (People with certain chronic illnesses should not get FluMist, but should get the flu shot instead - check with your health care provider)
  • Most people get flu shots around the time of year respiratory viruses are on the rise. This explains why some people happen to get sick with some other cold virus around the time they get the vaccine.  Additionally, it can take up to two weeks to build immunity after getting the shot, so it’s possible to catch influenza during this timeframe.
  • It’s common to mistake the side-effects of the vaccine (feeling achy and sore) with symptoms of the flu.

Myth #2: Flu shots don’t work

Overall, they do. While they aren’t 100 percent effective, flu shots are the best defense against getting the flu – and saving others from catching it.

  • Each year the flu and vaccine for it are different. Predicting next year’s flu is tricky, and as result, the vaccine may work better one year than another.
  • When the vaccine matches this year’s virus, healthy people are well protected. This makes them less likely to pass the flu to those who don’t respond as well: people with other illnesses and the frail elderly. Or babies who are too young to get vaccinated.

Myth #3: I got the flu shot last year. I don’t need it this year

You can get the flu more than once, and nearly everyone over six months of age needs a new flu shot each year.

  • The virus strain often changes from year to year. Last year’s vaccine might not work for this year’s virus.
  • Even if this year’s virus is the same as last year’s, the body’s immune protection declines over time. A yearly vaccination is the best protection against the flu.

Myth #4: I didn’t get my flu shot early. It’s useless to get one now

The flu season can go from October to May. While October and November is the best time to get the flu shot, getting it later (December - February) can still help protect you.

For more information on commonly asked flu shot questions, read this Flu FAQ.

Meet the Author

Mark H. Hermanoff, MD is board-certified in Allergy & Clinical Immunology and Internal Medicine at Aurora Health Care in Wauwatosa, Glendale, Summit and Washington County, Wisconsin.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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