Q: I’ve heard some things about flu shots that concern me. What’s the deal?
A: The flu kills between 12,000 and 56,000 people every year in the U.S, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, why are people still hesitant to get a vaccine? Flu shot misconceptions play a large role. Here are three of the most common fallacies:
“You can catch the flu from the vaccine.” FALSE.
The flu vaccine contains a dead strand of the virus. While it does help build your immune system, you cannot get sick from it. If you do become sick after the flu shot, it could be that you were already exposed to one of the many viruses that circulate this time of year. Also, since it takes your body up to four weeks to build protection against the flu, you are still vulnerable to infection shortly after your shot. Finally, there are many strains of the flu, and the yearly vaccine does not protect against all of them; instead it targets the strains most likely to cause an outbreak for the year.
“You do not need the flu shot every year.” FALSE.
The flu virus often mutates from year to year, which means last year’s shot will not protect you against this year’s strain of the virus.
“Healthy people do not need the flu shot.” FALSE.
The vaccination’s purpose is to strengthen immune systems against the influenza virus. Getting a flu shot also helps protect those who are especially vulnerable including the young, elderly, those with chronic medical problems and those who are already ill or immune-compromised. But even healthy people can benefit from vaccination. If the majority of the population is vaccinated and can’t get sick, widespread disease becomes less likely.
It is important to remember the flu is not your average cold; it is a serious viral illness that antibiotics cannot cure. People who get the flu can lose up to two weeks from work and feel exhausted for several weeks after.
The most effective ways to reduce your risk of infection are vaccination, covering your face and mouth when you sneeze or cough, and making sure you wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
Helen C. Thorpe, M.D., is the medical director of primary care services for Mercy Physician Network.