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Don’t let flu shot myths keep you from a healthy winter

Family medicine physician Larry Richmond debunks four big flu shot myths to help you stay healthy this year.

By Larry Richmond, MD
October 9, 2017

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Winter is coming. And so is the flu.

As a physician, the online spread of misinformation about the health of children and families is one of my biggest pet peeves. I know there are a lot of myths out there surrounding flu shots. Let’s debunk them to help keep our community safe and healthy, all flu season long.

Myth: the flu shot can cause the flu

Fact: A flu shot cannot cause the flu. But it can have mild side effects. The most common include soreness, tenderness or swelling at the injection site. You might also get a small fever, headaches and muscle aches.

It is possible to still feel flu-like symptoms, even after getting the flu shot. This could be because some years the shot isn’t as effective as other years. This doesn’t mean the shot does not work. Even if the shot doesn’t protect you completely from the flu, it can significantly decrease your chances of hospitalization or serious complications. There is also a chance you were exposed to the flu before getting the shot or during the two week period after getting the shot, when you are still building up your immunity.

The risks associated with the flu are much higher than those associated with the shot.

Myth: It’s better to get the flu than to get the shot.

Fact: The flu can be serious, especially in children and older adults. But it can also carry risks of serious complications in otherwise healthy people. Getting vaccinated is safer and cheaper than risking these problems.

When you get the flu shot, not only does it protect you from the flu, but it protects those you’re in contact with. It can even protect babies under six months, who cannot get the shot. And even if you don’t have any babies in your life, chances are that one of your colleagues or family members does. The flu can spread from you to them to the baby.

You may think you can beat the flu if you get it. But we can all avoid getting sick if we all get the shot.

Myth: I should wait until later in the fall to get the vaccine so my immunity lasts all flu season.

Fact: While peak flu season is between December and February, you can get sick as early as October. Delaying the shot until later in the fall may lead to higher levels of immunity during this time. But you should also weigh the risks that come with waiting. It’s possible you might be exposed to the flu before getting the shot or during the two week period after the shot.

It’s never too late to get your shot, even in January. The flu can still spread as late as May.

Myth: I don’t need the flu shot because I never get sick. Or, I’m healthy, so if I do get the flu I can fight it off.

Fact: Influenza symptoms are so severe that you might end up using multiple sick days and be stuck in bed, even in you are in great health. Because there are some years when only a few people get the flu, many people are led to believe they won’t get the flu the following year.

Your luck can change in any given year.

Get a flu shot today! Find a clinic near you:

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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