10 Myths About the Flu Shot You need to Stop Believing
We're debunking misconceptions about seasonal flu and flu vaccines here!
10 Biggest Flu Shot Myths, Debunked
If not, we're guessing it's because you're still unsure about what the influenza virus even is, how a flu shot actually helps, and why you should even be getting the influenza vaccine in the first place.
We're here to break all that down for you and more. Scroll below to learn everything there is to know about the flu shot, along with the 10 biggest myths about the flu shot you need to stop believing.
What Is the Flu Shot?
The World Health Organization defines influenza vaccines (also known as flu shots) as, "vaccines that protect against infection by influenza viruses."
It's recommended that those at high risk for serious complications from the influenza virus get one annually. Those people include everyone over the age of 65, people with chronic diseases of the heart, lungs, or kidneys, people with diabetes, immunosuppression, severe forms of anemia, residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities, women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during the influenza season, and health care professionals.
Pretty simple, but are they really all that effective, let alone necessary?
Some Statistics About the Flu and Flu Shots
Before we touch on the necessity of a flu shot, we're going to throw some important stats your way:
The vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness between 40 percent and 60 percent.
The traditional flu vaccine protects against three flu viruses—influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H2N3), and Influenza B.
During the 2016 to 2017 flu season, the flu vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 85,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.
Vaccine uptake has been stable at around 47 percent in the U.S., with the 2016 to 2017 influenza vaccination having a vaccine effectiveness of 40 percent.
Why Flu Shots Are Necessary
There has been quite the debate as to whether or not flu shots are all that necessary. Some doctors urge everyone to get them, while others only believe those in high risk populations need them.
As previously stated, it's important for those who are more likely to experience serious complications from the flu to get the vaccination. This includes the elderly, pregnant women, young children, and those in the health care field.
If you don't fall in that category, but really don't want to miss a week of work due to the illness, get a flu shot. But if you're not at a high risk of complications, you could be fine without one.
One of the biggest and most important reasons to get one is to protect those around you from the flu virus. You maybe able to deal with the symptoms, but one of your family members or friends might not be so lucky.
The Right Time to Get Your Flu Shot
Flu season is in full-swing, but is it too late to get the shot? According to the CDC, the best time to get the influenza vaccination is by the end of October. It'll take about two weeks for the antibodies that protect against the flu to develop in the body, so the sooner you can get the shot, the better.
If you aren't a fan of needles, there is a nasal spray vaccine known as the live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) available.
What Are 10 of the Most Common Flu Shot Myths?
We're so glad you asked! Below are 10 of the most common myths about the flu shot and where they came from:
Myth No. 1: The Flu Vaccine Gives You the Flu
One of the biggest myths surrounded the influenza vaccination is that it actually gives you the flu. This is not the case, as the vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that can't transmit infection. Many people assume that when they get sick after receiving the shot, their illness was brought on by the vaccine. The logic is there, but that's still not the case.
Myth No. 2: You Don't Need to Get the Flu Vaccine Annually
The flu virus is constantly evolving. So the vaccine that worked last year might not be as effective for the flu this year. This is why it's important to stay up-to-date on your flu vaccines and get them annually.
Myth No. 3: The Flu Shot Doesn't Work
The flu shot does work, having between a 40 percent to 60 percent effectiveness, according to the CDC. The vaccine is created roughly nine months before flu season, so there's no way of telling how effective it is until flu season begins. That being said, it does work at protecting those who get it against the flu and flu-like symptoms.
Myth No. 4: You Don't Need It If You've Never Had the Flu
Just because you rarely ever get sick and have never gotten the flu in your life, doesn't mean that'll hold out for the rest of your life. As you get older and your immune system weakens, it's more and more critical to get the flu vaccine. Plus, getting it will ensure that you don't pass it along to family members and friends, if you're unfortunate enough to get the flu this year.
Myth No. 5: The Flu Isn't That Bad
Influenza is horrible. Though many believe it's just a really bad cold, that's certainly not the case. While the flu-related symptoms include sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, and cough, 36,000 people die in the U.S. alone because of the flu. Last time we checked, the common cold didn't kill this many people.
Myth No. 6: Being Exposed to Cold Weather Causes the Flu
Venturing out into the chilly weather without a coat on is not how you catch the flu. The only way to get it is by being exposed to the influenza virus. So you can run around in the freezing cold without your winter coat as often as you like, so long as you get your flu shot.
Myth No. 7: There's a Time Limit as to When You Can Get Vaccinated
While the CDC recommends everyone gets the flu vaccine by the end of October, you can get vaccinated in December or even later. Flu season differs from year to year, usually peaking between December and March, so don't fret if you don't get the shot by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. You'll still be able to get it later in the year.
Myth No. 8: There's Only One Type of Flu Shot
There are actually a handful of licensed, age-appropriate influenza vaccines that the CDC recommends. They are inactivated influenza vaccines (IIV), recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV), and live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4). There's no preference for one over the other, but LAIV4 is a nasal spray vaccine that's recommended for people for whom it is otherwise appropriate.
Myth No. 9: Pregnant Women Shouldn't Get the Flu Shot
The flu itself has been linked to miscarriage, so it's critical that pregnant women get the flu shot to prevent this from happening. Not only does it protect the woman from the risk of flu-associated acute respirator infection and being hospitalized with the flu, it can protect a baby after birth from the flu.
Myth No. 10: The Stomach Flu Is Caused by the Flu
Though they share the name flu, the stomach flu is not related to influenza. Influenza is a respirator disease, whereas the stomach flu is an intestinal disease.
Where Can You Get a Flu Shot?
There are a number of places you can get a flu shot this year, including your primary care physician, urgent care centers, and even pharmacy chains such as Rite-Aid, CVS, Target, and Walmart.
The CDC allows you to enter your zip code into their flu vaccine finder widget to find a flu clinic near you. You can use the tool here.
If you don't have insurance, you can pay out-of-pocket for the flue vaccination at a pharmacy chain. Costco has the cheapest flu shot of 2018, costing $19.99 without insurance. Target is the most expensive, costing $39.99 without insurance.
If you don't want to pay, your employer or county health department may offer free flu shots. Be sure to ask them to find out for sure.
And if flu shots are covered by your health insurance, you won't have to pay for them no matter where you go. With the sheer volume of options, there really is no excuse not to get vaccinated this year.