Everyone six months of age and older without contraindications should get a flu shot every season, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But many will not, often because of long-held misconceptions about the vaccine.
Flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60%. The CDC reports that during 2019-2020, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 7.5 million cases of the flu, 105,000 flu-related hospitalizations, and 6,300 flu-related deaths.
Getting a flu shot is particularly important as COVID-19 variants rage. “The flu vaccine was important to get prior to the pandemic, but now has a new sense of urgency attached to it due to the ongoing threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says NYC Health + Hospitals Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Machelle Allen.
A survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases found that while nearly 70% agree that the flu shot is the best way to prevent flu-related deaths and hospitalizations, 41% said they were either unsure or simply not planning to get a flu vaccine that year.
Campaigns such as Flu Shot Fridays help increase vaccination uptake and promote health during the winter months. With so many not getting flu shots each year, however, basic education around vaccination continues to be critical.
In the NFID study, respondents said they don’t think flu vaccines work very well, are concerned about side effects, and believe they can get the flu from the vaccine. Here are a few facts to clear up some common misconceptions about flu vaccination:
Misconception #1: The flu is not that serious so you don’t need the vaccine.
Fact: As many as 650,000 people a year can die of the flu. This only represents respiratory deaths, so the likely impact is even higher. Even healthy people can get the flu, but especially people whose immune systems are vulnerable. Most people will recover within a few weeks, but some can develop complications including sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, heart or brain inflammations.
Misconception #2: The flu vaccine can give you the flu.
Fact: The injected flu vaccine contains an inactivated virus that cannot give you influenza. If you feel achy or slightly feverish, it is a normal reaction of the immune system to the vaccine, and generally lasts only a day or two.
Misconception #3: The flu vaccine can cause severe side effects.
Fact: The flu vaccine is proven to be safe. Severe side effects are extremely rare. One in a million people may get Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), which causes muscle weakness and paralysis.
Misconception #4: You had the vaccine and still got the flu, so it doesn’t work.
Fact: Several flu viruses are circulating all the time, which is why people may still get the flu despite being vaccinated since the vaccine is specific to one strain. However, being vaccinated improves the chance of being protected from the flu. In fact, several studies have shown that flu vaccination helps reduce the severity of illness. More importantly, getting the flu vaccine is especially important to stop the virus affecting people with vulnerable immune systems.
Misconception #5: Pregnant women shouldn’t get the flu vaccine.
Fact: Not only is the inactivated flu vaccine safe at any stage of pregnancy, but pregnant women should especially get the flu vaccine since their immune systems are weaker than usual. There is also an added benefit to newborns. Many studies have shown that a flu vaccine given during pregnancy helps protect the baby from the flu several months after birth, when he or she is too young to be vaccinated.
This article is brought to you by Sanofi.