If you have ever gotten sick from the flu, you know just how horrible it can be. From fever chills to feeling as if you’ve been hit by a truck, it truly is not an experience anyone ever wants to have. Fortunately, you can reduce your chances of getting the flu by simply getting vaccinated; not so fortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around about the flu shot, which often dissuades people from getting it.
As of April 2023, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 47.4 percent of American adults had received a flu shot for the 2022-2023 season, which was slightly higher than the numbers for the 2021-2022 season (45.4 percent). Still, over half of American adults are skipping a free vaccination that protects against a miserable and, for some, life-threatening illness. There are many reasons behind these relatively low numbers, but vaccine misinformation — which became more widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic — is certainly one of them.
The fix? It starts with getting informed about the flu shot and talking to your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns. Good news: you’re starting in the right place. To dispel some common myths about the flu shot, Dr. Denise Pate with Medical Offices of Manhattan gave SheKnows some insights to separate fact from fear-mongering fiction.
Myth: The flu is the same as having a bad cold.
The common cold can cause you to feel exhausted and run down, but the flu has all the symptoms of a cold — sneezing, cough, and sore throat — and will put you on bedrest. The CDC notes that most people will recover from the flu in less than two weeks, but developing complications — such as pneumonia, inflammation of the heart or brain, or sepsis — could send you to the hospital. In the worst case scenario, these serious complications can also lead to death. Between 2010 and 2020, the CDC estimates that flu resulted in between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations yearly.
Myth: Healthy people do not need a flu shot.
Anyone can get the flu, even if you’re healthy. That is why the CDC suggests an annual influenza vaccination for everyone who is six months and older. Furthermore, no matter how healthy you are, once you are infected, you can become contagious. And even if you don’t have any symptoms, you can still spread the virus to others; in fact, a 2009 review found that one in three people with the flu is asymptomatic, and those individuals can still spread the virus to others.
Myth: I don’t need the flu vaccine every year.
The protection offered by the flu vaccine decreases with time (much like the COVID-19 vaccine), making it essential to get vaccinated yearly. In addition to protecting yourself, it also protects those around you. It’s also important to get vaccinated every flu season because the flu virus actually mutates every year, and vaccines are reformulated to protect you from the strains most likely to cause an outbreak during that particular season.
Myth: The flu vaccine causes the flu.
The flu shot can cause flu-like side effects, but it does not actually give you the flu. That’s because, according to the CDC, the most common, needle-given flu vaccines are made with either inactivated viruses or with just a single protein from the flu virus. (The nasal spray vaccine contains weakened live virus that will not cause illness.) We’ll talk more about the flu vaccine’s side effects below.
Myth: Pregnant women shouldn’t get a flu vaccine.
The CDC recommends that all pregnant women get vaccinated for the flu, and says they can do so safely at any time during their pregnancy. This is an important misconception to clear up, because pregnant women with the flu are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized — but less than half of all pregnant people were vaccinated this past flu season, according to CDC data.
Also important to note: pregnant women who receive a flu vaccine not only protect themselves but also their unborn child from the flu. Babies are protected by their mother’s antibodies for the first few months of their lives.
Myth: The flu vaccine has serious side effects.
The flu vaccine is extremely safe. “Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines for more than 50 years,” the CDC says, “and the body of scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports their safety.” Common side effects from the flu vaccine may include a low fever, headache, and muscle aches, as well as soreness or redness around the area where the shot was given. These side effects should dissipate after one to two days.
The CDC describes serious allergic reactions to the flu vaccine as “very rare,” and occurring within a few hours after vaccination. Treatments are also available for these reactions.
Myth: The flu vaccine doesn’t work.
The effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies year to year depending on the similarity between the strains in circulation and those in the vaccine, which are selected by scientists before flu season to account for manufacturing time. Your health and age can also affect how well the flu vaccine works on an individual level, the CDC says. That said, recent studies have found that the flu vaccine reduces the risk of developing the flu by between 40 and 60 percent when the circulating strains and vaccine strains are considered to be a good match.
The flu is estimated to have caused tens of thousands of deaths each year in the US since 2010, according to CDC data, so even some level of protection is worth having — especially if it comes with essentially no downside, like the flu vaccine does. If you have any lingering questions or concerns about the flu shot, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor and learn the facts about this life-saving vaccine.
Before you go, here are 13 products to ease your kid’s cold symptoms:
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