Coming down with the flu itself is terrible -- no one likes achy muscles, a high temperature and an upset stomach. But coming down with the flu while the novel coronavirus is lingering everywhere? That's terrifying.
Luckily, advances in vaccinations have allowed scientists to develop new flu shots every year that are pretty darn effective. Yet, many people still avoid getting their flu shot because of common misconceptions that run rampant, something that's likely to be compounded due to the COVID-19 crisis.
I'm here today to explain some flu shot myths you've probably heard -- starting with a couple that are top-of-mind during the pandemic -- and why they are ultimately not true.
1. The flu shot will give you COVID-19
The flu shot will definitely not give you COVID-19. The flu shot won't even give you the flu (see myth number four), so to think it'll give you an entirely separate disease is pretty far out.
You may experience mild symptoms, such as chills or muscle soreness, after getting the flu shot, but this is normal (although not common) and should subside shortly after getting the vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that "There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccine increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19."
One study published in January 2020 concluded that getting a flu shot might increase your susceptibility to other respiratory diseases, such as a coronavirus, but the study was later corrected and disproved by another study out of Canada, published in May 2020.
As it stands, getting a flu shot will not increase your risk of catching any coronavirus, including the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
2. The flu shot will protect you from COVID-19
This also isn't true. There's absolutely no evidence that getting a flu shot this year will protect you from COVID-19. The flu shot can, of course, protect you from influenza, an entirely different virus from the novel coronavirus. That is its intention and that's reason enough to get your flu shot this year.
Health experts are urging the public to take flu immunization seriously this year, lest we face a "twindemic," or a flu pandemic that overlaps the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Not only is this a threat to public health (the ultimate goal is to keep as many people as possible healthy and thriving) but it's a threat to the hospital system.
The flu is responsible for hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations each year. The flu also temporarily suppresses your immune system and makes you susceptible to other health conditions, including pneumonia, and may worsen pre-existing conditions.
Hospital systems around the world struggled with COVID-19 during peak stages of the pandemic; piling influenza cases on top of COVID-19 cases could cause extreme overflow.
3. I got a flu shot last year so I don't need another
The flu shot is the same every year, right? Actually, it's not.
Rite Aid's Chief Pharmacy Officer, Jocelyn Konrad, said that people should make sure they're getting a new flu shot every year: "Because flu viruses evolve so quickly, there are new vaccinations released every year to match the most common flu viruses expected during the upcoming season. Last season's vaccine may not protect you from this year's viruses."
The body's immune response from vaccination wanes over time, so annual vaccination is your best defense against the flu. Even though last flu season might've felt like just yesterday, you should make sure to stop by your local pharmacy to renew your vaccination.
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4. The flu shot will give me the flu
This one is another myth that causes people to skip their flu shot, but it's also not true.
"Some people report having mild reactions to flu vaccination, such as low-grade fever and aches, that are mistaken for the flu," Konrad said, "but those symptoms aren't actually the flu."
The CDC explains why. Flu shots are made in two ways:
- With inactive (dead) flu viruses that aren't infectious; or
- With one gene from a flu virus, as opposed to the whole virus.
Inactive flu vaccines aren't infectious, and the single-gene vaccines produce an immune response but aren't strong enough to cause an infection.
So, even if you feel mildly achy after a flu shot, it's light years better than spending a few days in bed immobile because you came down with the actual flu.
While effectiveness varies from season to season, during times when the vaccine has matched the virus well, the CDC reports that the flu shot reduces the risk of having to visit the doctor with the illness by 40% to 60%.
Plus, it's not just the flu -- the vaccination works well in reducing hospitalizations for any flu-related conditions. In recent years the vaccine reduced children's chances of landing in the ICU unit by 74% and adults by 40%.
5. The flu shot will make me more susceptible to other respiratory diseases
One study from 2012 suggested that people who receive the influenza vaccination are at a greater risk for other diseases with symptoms like a runny nose and a sore throat. A lot of people heard about the preliminary finding, and word spread like wildfire that the connection was definitely true. Researchers were then prompted to delve deeper into the association, and numerous studies have since disproved the link.
The CDC states that medical professionals are unclear why the 2012 study suggested those results, but that it's not something to be concerned about whatsoever, and that it shouldn't deter you from getting your flu shot.
6. Getting the actual flu will make me immune
Some people might think that if a housemate is sick, they'll probably catch it anyway, and the virus will do a better job at making them immune for the next time the flu comes around.
The CDC reports that this is a bad decision -- getting the flu comes with the risks of dehydration, hospitalization and other health complications, even if you're a relatively healthy person before getting sick. It's far better to get the vaccine in advance than to wait for what you may think is inevitable.
7. I'm healthy, so I don't need a flu shot
I'll admit that this is an excuse I sometimes find myself using. I'm young and generally in good condition, so even if I come down with the flu, I'll only feel bad for a day or so, right?
The CDC says that even healthy children and adults can risk hospitalization or severe complications from a bout of the flu. It's one of those things you think will never happen to you until it does, so please join me in getting a flu shot this year to prevent this horrible possibility.
8. The flu shot doesn't even work
It can be hard to believe in the power of the vaccination, especially when you or someone you know has still gotten sick after getting the shot. The CDC makes it clear that the flu vaccine isn't perfect -- no vaccine is. However, the flu shot is still the best way to prevent getting the flu.
While effectiveness varies from season to season, during times when the vaccine has matched the virus well, the CDC estimates that the flu shot reduces the risk of having to visit the doctor with the illness by 40% to 60%.
Plus, it's not just the flu -- the vaccination works well in reducing hospitalizations for any flu-related conditions. In recent years the vaccine reduced children's chances of landing in the ICU by 74% and adults by 40%.
9. It's too far into flu season to get the shot
If you find yourself too busy to make it to the doctor's office for a flu shot until you're well into November, it's easy to just forget the vaccine till next year. You may think that flu season is almost over, so there's no point.
Although the CDC recommends getting a flu shot before the end of October, flu season can sometimes last until April of the following year. So if you're sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table thinking it's too late for a vaccine, you'll be better off getting the shot a few weeks late than not getting it at all.
Who should and who shouldn't get the flu shot?
The CDC recommends that everyone over six months old gets their flu shot, especially people at higher risk like the elderly, children under two years old, people who are pregnant and anyone with chronic conditions. The only people who shouldn't get a flu shot are babies under six months of age and people with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredients in the flu shot.
There are different types of flu shots that are approved for different ages, so the physician administering your vaccine will choose the right one for you. For example, the recombinant influenza vaccine is only approved for people over 18 years old.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.