At this time of year, I feel like I ask every single patient if they’ve had their flu shot. It’s such an easy way to prevent getting really sick, so I want to dispell a few of the myths I’ve heard….
1- You can get the flu from the flu shot. This is absolutely untrue- the shot contains inactivated (aka dead) virus and the nasal spray when available contains a very weak strain of virus. These myths continue in large part for two reasons:
- People can get mild flu-like symptoms for a few days following the shot. When you inject yourself with foreign material (especially stuff that looks like a virus), your body will raise an immune response to it. That’s the way the vaccine works- it gets your body to recognize the virus when the virus is dead or unable to cause an infection. Then your body is able to remember what the virus looks like, so if you come in contact with it again your body will quickly fight it off. So, following a flu shot you may get some fatigue, body aches and fever. THIS IS NOT THE FLU!
- People may get sick from another virus going around (such as rhinovirus- the common cold. Sorry, nothing we can do about that yet!) or they may have already come in contact with the flu virus before their shot. THIS IS NOT BECAUSE OF THE FLU SHOT!
2. My immune system is strong, I don’t need the shot. This is my favorite, because this is how I felt for years. But think about it this way…some people get the flu and are sick for a few days and feel terrible, but some people get the flu and end up in the hospital. For kids and the elderly, people may die from the flu. So why risk getting that sick?
3. I got the vaccine before and I still got the flu. It’s useless. Sometimes, the strain of flu virus that gets picked for the vaccine may not be the exact strain that circulates. If it’s not, your body will have to fight off a different virus and may not be able to beat it back into submission before you get a full fledged infection. This isn’t because the vaccine failed, it’s just because the vaccine makers didn’t guess quite right.
4. This is my choice, it doesn’t affect anyone else. Well, it’s true- it is your choice entirely and your healthcare professional should respect that choice. However, this is not all about you. If you happen to catch the flu, you can very easily to spread it to others around you. Your family, your co-workers, or any person you come in contact with. Imagine what that could do to your grandmother, baby niece, etc.
That being said, there is a risk of mild flu like symptoms following the flu vaccine and a VERY, VERY, VERY small risk of something called Guillian Barre syndrome following the shot. GBS is a paralytic illness that can develop following a large number of different infections or vaccines. In most cases it is reversible and it’s SUPER rare to get following a flu shot. But to be fair,I had to mention it.
I guess when it comes down to it, it is a personal choice. I wholeheartedly recommend flu shots to my friends and family and have gotten one myself for the past 3 years. Whatever you do, try and minimize contact with those you know are sick and frequently wash your hands. Eat healthy and get enough sleep too.