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Experts debunk these 4 flu shot myths

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer


It’s that time of year when those around you might frequently ask the question, “Did you get your flu shot yet?,” and it’s for good reason.

Although cases of influenza are reported throughout the year in the United States, the height of flu activity occurs between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, not everyone chooses to get vaccinated – a decision that could prove fatal. Approximately 80,000 Americans died from the flu and related complications during the winter of 2017-2018, the CDC reported.

It doesn’t help that misconceptions surrounding the potentially life-saving flu vaccine are common.

Young girl getting a flu vaccine - Getty Images

(Photo/fstop123/Getty Images)


About 51 percent of primary care physicians in the U.S. believe confusion exists around flu shots for patients who decline them, according to data from InCrowd, a real-time market insights technology company serving healthcare and pharmaceutical firms.

“Most of the misconceptions about flu vaccines are due to the fact that most people don't really know what influenza is,” said northern California-based internal medicine physician Dr. David Belk.

“The common cold viruses have no relation whatsoever to the influenza virus,” Belk told AccuWeather. “Therefore, the influenza vaccine will not in any way protect people from getting colds – no vaccine will.”

Below are four myths and facts regarding the flu vaccine.

1. Myth: Healthy people don’t need a flu shot.

Anyone can get the flu, even if you're healthy and rarely get sick, according to Dr. Robert Segal, co-founder of LabFinder.com.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2018 that 85 percent of children who died from the flu that year were not vaccinated.

“That’s why the CDC suggests that everyone who is 6 months and older get a flu shot,” he said. “No matter how healthy someone is, if they get infected, they, too, can become contagious.”

2. Myth: The flu shot makes you sick.

Influenza vaccines do not cause the flu or other illnesses, experts say.

”The active component of the flu vaccine that causes you to develop antibodies against the virus and thus creates immunity is altered in such a way that it cannot cause flu,” said medical writer Tish Davidson.

Flu vaccines are created in several different ways, and some versions of the vaccine are genetically engineered so that they contain only some proteins from the virus, which alone are incapable of causing flu, according to Davidson.

Some people who get vaccinated may still get sick, according to the CDC.

However, the vaccine can't transmit the infection because it is made from an inactive virus, according to Segal.

“It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to kick in, and those who got sick immediately after getting vaccinated thought that it was the vaccine that caused their illness,” Segal said. “In reality, they were on their way to getting sick before they got vaccinated.”

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Some studies have shown that vaccinations reduced severity of illness in those who received the flu shot but still got sick, according to the CDC. A 2018 study showed that “a vaccinated adult who was hospitalized with flu was 59 percent less likely to be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit than someone who had not been vaccinated.”

3. Myth: Pregnant women can't receive a flu vaccine.

There's a higher risk of flu complications in pregnant women, and the flu is more likely to make a pregnant woman severely ill than a non-pregnant woman of reproductive age, the CDC stated. This is due to changes in the immune system, heart and lungs during pregnancy.

“When a pregnant woman gets vaccinated, not only does she protect her unborn child from the flu, but the baby, once born, can also be protected by the vaccine,” Segal told AccuWeather.

4. Myth: The flu shot doesn’t work.

Although effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year, usually ranging from about 35 percent to 75 percent, it can reduce the debilitating effects of flu even when it’s not 100-percent effective, said Davidson.

“Vaccines against influenza are different from other vaccines because their composition must change every year, [as] influenza viruses mutate easily, frequently creating new strains,” she said.

Getting vaccinated annually helps to ensure that a person is protected from new mutations of the virus.

“So, unlike other vaccines, individuals must be re-immunized each year,” Davidson said.


For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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