Common Flu Shot Myths Debunked
Nov 18, 2022 | Flu | Share:
Flu is already circulating this year, so if you haven’t gotten your flu shot already, it’s time.
We understand. Getting your flu shot is just one more thing to plan for and add to your to-do list. Does anyone really want to schedule the time to get a shot?
But some aren’t avoiding the flu shot because it’s inconvenient, they’re avoiding it because of misinformation. Is one of these common myths keeping you from getting your flu shot this year? We’re here to set the facts straight so you can make an informed decision about getting vaccinated against the flu.
Myth #1: The flu shot gives you the flu
While your body does mount an immune response to the flu shot, it’s not because you’re sick with the flu. The flu shot does not give anyone the flu.
The influenza vaccine is made with an inactivated (or killed) form of the flu virus. Inactivated vaccines, which have been in use as a vaccine technology for decades, are made when scientists remove the pathogenic element of the virus (the part that makes you sick) and replicate this inactivated virus in a lab.
When a person receives the flu shot, they are given a small dose of this inactivated virus. The vaccine can’t make you sick, but it does trigger a mild immune response. The immune response is essential because this process allows your body to form antibodies to the flu.
Some people won’t experience any side effects at all from this immune response, but others may experience minor, short-lived side effects in response to the vaccine. While some of these side effects (such as fever) may be similar to symptoms of the flu, this isn’t the same as an infection with the flu.
Myth #2: The side effects from the shot are worse than the flu
Yes, there are common side effects to the flu shot. But not everyone experiences them, and they’re usually minor and short-lived.
Common side effects of the flu shot include:
- Redness or soreness at the injection site
- Fever or chills
- Body aches
- Nausea or upset stomach
You may experience one or more of these side effects after getting your flu shot, but they usually only last for a day or two. The flu can last for around a week, but symptoms such as cough and fatigue can last long after you’ve recovered from the flu.
The benefits of getting the flu shot far outweigh the side effects. Benefits of getting the flu shot each year include:
- Reduced risk of getting the flu. The flu shot generally reduces your risk of getting the flu by 40-60%.1 Although it doesn’t provide perfect protection, it does greatly reduce the odds that you’ll get sick.
- Reduced risk of complications from the flu. You can still get sick with the flu after getting the flu shot. But those who do get sick are less likely to be admitted to the hospital with complications. Those who got the flu shot and are hospitalized spend, on average, four fewer days in the hospital than those who have not been vaccinated.2
- Your immune system is primed to fight the flu. The flu shot causes your body to generate antibodies to the flu so that when your body does encounter the virus, your immune system is ready to fight it off.
- Limiting community spread of the flu. If fewer people get sick with the flu, fewer people are able to transmit the virus to others.
Rare allergic reactions to the flu shot do occur, so if you’re allergic to any of the vaccine ingredients or you’ve previously had a severe reaction to the flu shot before, you should talk with your doctor before getting this year’s flu shot.
Myth #3: The flu shot doesn't work
It’s true. You can still get the flu after getting the flu shot. But that doesn’t mean the vaccine isn’t effective. The flu shot is effective at preventing 40-60% of flu infections, and those who do get sick have shorter, milder infections than those who did not get the flu shot. Additionally, individuals who get the flu shot are less likely to have severe complications from the flu.
In the 2019-2020 flu season, the CDC estimates that flu vaccination prevented:3
- 7.5 million illnesses
- 3.7 million flu-related doctor visits
- 105,000 flu-related hospitalizations
- 6,300 flu-related deaths
In a year when hospitalization rates for other respiratory illnesses such as RSV are already high, every ounce of flu prevention helps.
The effectiveness of the flu shot each year does depend on how well the vaccine is matched to the dominant flu strains that are circulating. All flu shots available in 2022 are quadrivalent vaccines that are targeted to the four flu strains that are dominant this season.
It’s important to note that the influenza vaccine is not effective immediately. It can take up to two weeks after your shot for your body to build immunity to the flu.
Myth #4: Flu is no big deal, so there's no need to get a shot
While many people will recover from the flu with no complications, flu can cause serious complications or death – even in healthy individuals. In the United States in the 2019-2020 flu season, there were:4
- 36 million flu-related illnesses
- 390,000 flu-related hospitalizations
- 25,000 flu-related deaths
Anyone can develop serious complications from the flu, including pneumonia and sepsis. Flu can also be particularly dangerous for those who have chronic medical problems such as asthma, COPD, or chronic heart disease. People over the age of 65, children under the age of 5, and those with weakened immune systems are also at greater risk of developing complications from the flu.
Although the flu is usually mild in that most people recover at home without complications, anyone who’s ever gotten sick with the flu knows that it’s pretty awful. You can still be sick for a week and have symptoms that linger even longer. The flu shot can shorten the duration and severity of your illness or keep you from getting sick altogether.
Myth #5: You only need to get the flu shot once
That flu shot you got a few years ago won’t protect you against the flu this year. You need to get the flu shot every single year to protect against the dominant strains that are circulating.
Like all viruses, influenza mutates. There are multiple flu variants circulating in 2022, and none of them are the exact same versions that circulated the last time you got your flu shot - whether that was last year or 10 years ago. The 2022 flu shot is targeted for the variants that scientists predict will be circulating throughout this particular flu season.
Most vaccines don’t need to be updated each year. Vaccines like your tetanus shot only require a booster every ten years. But because the flu is different each year, the vaccine also needs to be different.
Because of low flu activity and a hyperfocus on COVID-19, you may have skipped your flu shot these past few years. If that’s true, it’s especially important that you get your flu shot this year: flu is already widespread in Alabama.
Myth #6: The flu shot is dangerous for pregnant women
The flu shot is safe, approved, and recommended for pregnant women. Because of changes to a pregnant woman’s immune system, heart, and lungs, pregnant women are at increased risk of complications from the flu. The flu also presents risks to unborn babies.
Flu shots given during pregnancy will provide protection for mothers and their babies. Protection is even extended to newborns; the flu shot can lower the risk of flu in babies up to 24 weeks by over 60%.5
The flu shot does not increase the risk of miscarriage or other conditions specific to pregnant women, such as pre-eclampsia, over women who did not get the vaccine.6 While the flu shot is approved for pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding, pregnant women should not get the Flu Mist.
If you’re pregnant and concerned about getting the flu shot this year, talk with your obstetrician about your concerns. They can answer your questions and help you make the best choice for you and your baby.
The flu shot is the single-best way to protect yourself from the flu while also limiting community spread. At MedHelp, we make getting your flu shot as easy as possible. Flu shots are available at all five Birmingham MedHelp urgent care clinics, and no appointment is needed for flu shots.
It’s not too late to get your flu shot this year. Flu shots are available without an appointment at all five MedHelp urgent care clinics.
1 Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do Flu Vaccines Work? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 01 November 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm
2 What are the benefits of flu vaccination? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 01 November 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccine-benefits.htm
3 Vaccine Effectiveness: How Well Do Flu Vaccines Work? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 01 November 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/vaccineeffect.htm
4 Estimated Flu-Related Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths in the United States — 2019–2020 Flu Season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/2019-2020
5 Study: Flu shots in pregnant women benefit newborns. University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. Accessed 02 November 2022. https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2008/09/study-flu-shots-pregnant-women-benefit-newborns
6 Flu Vaccine Safety and Pregnancy
Questions & Answers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 01 November 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/qa_vacpregnant.htm