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Debunking 5 common flu shot myths

Family medicine physician Larry Richmond debunks five big flu shot myths


By Larry Richmond, MD
October 22, 2018

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As fall temps take hold, there’s another change in the air. The flu.

I have the joy of working with dozens of wonderful families each year, helping them face all of life’s ups and downs. And I’m always amazed how many patients visiting in the fall ask questions about new and scary flu shot myths they found online. Sadly, false claims have a way of spreading, just like the flu does.

That’s why I care so deeply about debunking the top myths that have been floating around out there. I think we can all agree keeping ourselves, and our community, healthy all flu season long should be a top priority.

And getting your flu shot is the best way to make that happen.

Myth #1: You can get flu from the flu shot

Fact: The flu shot cannot give you the flu. The virus strain delivered in the vaccine is no longer active.

For some, the flu shot does come with mild side effects which can easily be mistaken for early flu-like symptoms. The most common include mild soreness, tenderness or a bit of swelling at the injection site. You may also run a small fever, or experience slight headaches or muscle aches.

On the other hand, many experience no side effects at all!

If you had to choose a day or two of mild discomfort or a full bout of the flu, isn’t the choice pretty darn easy?

Myth #2: Waiting until winter for a flu shot is safer

Fact: While peak flu season is between December and February, you can get sick as early as October. Some believe that getting vaccinated later will protect them longer, which simply is false. This also leaves you exposed for weeks, or months while the virus is floating around.

On the flip side, it’s never too late to get your shot – even in January. Influenza season can often last well into May. Late protection is better than no protection at all!

Myth #3: I don’t need the vaccine, I never get the flu

Fact: Unfortunately, a flu-free history does not guarantee a flu-free future. Flu strains evolve and change over time, which means you are at risk every year you avoid getting vaccinated. In addition, when you skip your shot you can still carry and pass flu germs to others.

Influenza symptoms can leave us stuck in bed for days using up valuable vacation time. I always ask patients, why not save up those days for a sunny vacation instead?

Myth #4: Flu shots don’t work

Fact: The flu vaccine can significantly reduce your risk of catching the flu.

In previous years when the vaccine matched circulating strains, the CDC reports that getting vaccinated reduced the chance of catching the flu by up to 60%.

Flu vaccination also significantly reduces the risk of flu-related hospitalization for the elderly, working age adults, and especially among children. For kids, it could even be a life-saver. A 2017 study showed that flu vaccinations reduce a child’s risks of dying from the flu.

When more people choose to vaccinate, doctors and CDC researchers are better equipped to pinpoint flu strains, keep rates of hospitalization down, and keep you and your family protected.

The science of vaccinations improves every year, and so do your odds of staying healthy with a flu shot.

Myth #5: Catching the flu builds your immunity more than the vaccine

Fact: Having heard that the flu shot doesn’t always work, some are led to believe that getting the flu will boost your immunity more than the flu shot.

There’s no truth to this claim. And sitting around waiting for the flu to strike is certainly not a good idea.

The flu can get serious fast, especially in children and older adults. But it also carries risks of complications for healthy people. Getting vaccinated is much safer, and comes with the same immunity benefits.

While protecting you, the flu shot also protects loved ones around you from getting sick. Once your body builds immunity (about 2 weeks after your shot), you can’t pass flu germs to anyone else. Now that’s something you can feel good about.

The flu shot is fast, easy, and almost always free. Ready to schedule yours?

Schedule a flu shot

About Larry Richmond, MD

Dr. Larry Richmond, is a family medicine doctor with Park Nicollet Plymouth Clinic. He loves working with a wide variety of patients – they’re the reason he went into family medicine. Outside of work, Dr. Richmond enjoys traveling, boating and just about any form of exercise.

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