A recent survey found that a large number of parents think the flu shot can result in flu infection.
It is now the middle of October and doctors are urging that you should get the flu vaccine if you haven’t already done so.
Given that 900,000 people were hospitalized in the United States over the course of the last flu season, getting vaccinated is crucial, said pediatrician Dr. James Cherry.
Cherry, a professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and Mattel Children’s Hospital, pointed out that last year’s flu season was particularly deadly.
“Last year in the United States there were about 80,000 deaths from the flu. That number is something that just really boggles the mind,” Cherry said.
He said that anyone who has not been vaccinated should get the flu shot as soon as possible.
“There are already some reports of the flu around, but we are still not at peak flu season,” Cherry said. “We’re nowhere near peak and that won’t be for usually another month. If you haven’t been vaccinated and haven’t yet had the flu, you should get the vaccine.”
Despite the danger there are many myths surrounding the flu shot that may lead people to avoid vaccination.
This month a survey found that a majority of parents think the flu shot can even lead to the flu, which is not true, or that the flu vaccine doesn’t work.
If you’re not sure what is a flu myth, we’ve rounded up the important facts below.
Flu fact #1: Flu season starts just before Halloween and ends as spring arrives
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the flu season runs from October to May and recommends getting a new dose of flu vaccine each year.
The reason is that there are countless, ever-changing strains of the flu.
Flu fact #2: Vaccines can fight multiple flu strains
Every year a new vaccine has to be developed in order to protect against the three or four different viruses that will emerge in a given year.
Criticism was directed last season at the vaccine, which was said to not be strong enough to combat H3N2, last year’s dominant viral strain of influenza and one that causes more severe disease than others.
Cherry stressed that vaccination naysayers miss the point when critiquing the flu vaccine.
Flu fact #3: A vaccine that is 50 percent effective can protect a lot of people
No vaccine is perfect, and Cherry said that even if you are protected just 50 percent, you are shielding yourself from more severe disease.
“Even in flu vaccine failures, the illness is less severe, you will still provide yourself with some partial protection,” he added.
Flu fact #4: Some age groups need different dosages of the vaccine
Dr. Alan Taege, an infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic, told Healthline that children who are 6 months through 8 years old might need two doses of flu vaccine each season. Beyond that, everyone else would just need the regular single dose.
Taege did add that older adults — about 65 years old, or older — and people with compromised immune systems might need a higher dosage vaccine. As always, he said that you should consult your physician if you have questions about what dosage is appropriate for you.
You should also be aware that the vaccine isn’t immediately effective. It takes around two weeks for your body to develop the antibody protection needed to fight off the virus.
Taege said that every year he hears some common misconceptions around the vaccine.
But these myths can be harmful if they lead people to avoid the vaccine unnecessarily.
Myth #1: You can get the flu from the flu shot
“The flu vaccine does not contain a live virus, so you can’t get the flu from the shot. That’s a common misconception,” Taege said.
However, people may feel feverish or achy in the days after getting the shot.
“That doesn’t mean you now have the flu. It means a person’s body is reacting to the vaccine,” Taege said. “Your body says ‘oh, there is something here’ and it then is going to build an antibody ‘fort.’ Typically, a reaction to the shot is mild and most people can get through with nothing more than Tylenol, or something like that.”
The nasal flu spray
Myth #2: You don’t need to get a new flu shot every year
“The different types of the flu mutate every year, so you need to get the new vaccine each year to take account of these variations,” he added.
Myth #3: You can be so healthy that you don’t need the vaccine
Taege said it is a myth that people who are normally healthy don’t need to bother getting a vaccine.
“You can believe you are too healthy to get the flu all you want, but then that changes once you end up getting the flu by not getting vaccinated,” he said. “Even young people can get severe influenza.”
Taege said it is true that a younger healthier person is not as high risk as seniors or young children, but that even a person in their prime health can get sick.
“The more people who get the vaccine, the more chance that we can avoid an epidemic,” Taege said. “It’s called ‘herd immunity’ —- the more vaccinated means less chance for widespread influenza.”
Going along with this point, Cherry said that it is the socially responsible thing to get yourself vaccinated.
“This year is the 100th anniversary of the 1918 flu, the greatest killer of all time. It’s really sobering to see that there were 80,000 deaths last year. Many of those deaths are due to secondary bacterial infections that can come once you get the flu,” Cherry said. “Get vaccinated.”
Taege added that, in addition to getting the vaccine, people should be mindful of “cough etiquette” — cover your mouth when you cough and avoid putting your hands to your face, since your nose and your mouth are typically how people can pick up the flu. He added that frequently washing your hands is crucial as well.
“Some people say ‘oh, the flu is just a bad cold,'” Taege said. “Well you can call it a bad cold all you want, but it is more than that. Most people don’t have any risk of dying from a cold unless you are immune compromised.”
Taege pointed out the flu can be much more dangerous than a simple cold.
“Influenza can kill anyone young or old or in between,” he said. “The flu comes on much more rapidly and much more forcefully than the common cold. Yes, some people, and some who are particularly vulnerable, do die from the flu.”
Experts say now is the time to get your flu shot. Despite common misperceptions, the flu shot cannot give you the flu, you cannot be too healthy that you don’t need it and you need to get a new shot every year.