by Scott Leiberman, internal medicine physician at Williamson Medical Group in Thompson’s Station, Tennessee.
(originally published 2015)
While flu season peaks in January, the virus typically appears in early October. Because two weeks are needed for antibodies from the vaccine to develop, it’s important that people receive the flu shot several weeks before the virus really starts spreading. Everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine each year. However, as with any disease that gets as much press as the flu does this time of year, there is an abundance of misinformation about influenza and the vaccination against it.
Here are five of the most common misconceptions about the flu vaccine:
Misconception #1: The vaccine does not work.
With the exception of death and taxes, nothing is 100 percent guaranteed. While I will admit the flu vaccine is not as effective as some of our better immunizations, it is still very good and can prevent you from getting the disease or developing serious complications from it. The vaccination also helps stop you from spreading the disease to others, and it provides some protection against flu-related side effects such as pneumonia, hospitalization and even death.
Misconception #2: The vaccine gave me the flu.
We’ve all heard someone say they got a flu shot and then got sick. What I tell my patients is that some people get sick-they even get the flu-after they get vaccinated, but it’s not from the shot. The reason it’s not due to the shot is because the flu occurs during the fall and winter, a time when other respiratory viruses not prevented by the flu vaccine are circulating around.
Also, and perhaps this is the lesser-known reason, is the vaccine takes a few weeks to build up your immunity. So, if you get vaccinated today and are exposed to influenza tomorrow, you can still get the flu even after getting vaccinated. It’s important to note that it is impossible to get the flu from the shot because it does not contain a live virus.
Misconception #3: I never get sick, so I don’t need the vaccine.
Getting immunized isn’t just for you, but for the people around you. If you feel like you don’t ever get the flu, you still don’t want to spread it to others. The scary thing about the flu is that healthy adults can be infected with the virus and not even show symptoms. For that reason alone, in my opinion, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Misconception #4: I don’t need the vaccine because I am pregnant or am around someone with a weak immune system.
Women who are pregnant should get vaccinated because they are more vulnerable to complications from the flu virus. The vaccine is safe for pregnant women, and the risk from getting the flu is much worse for your fetus than the flu shot. In addition, living with someone with a weak immune system is a major reason to get vaccinated. People with weak immune systems may not have a strong response to the vaccine and will rely on their close contacts to not bring them into contact with the virus.
Misconception #5: Flu season is all hype by manufacturers of the vaccination.
Flu season is real and typically runs from October to March. The flu is a dangerous virus that makes thousands of people severely ill-enough to require hospitalization-and some even die from the virus. While some may think the flu isn’t a big deal, for others, the virus could be life-threatening.
Prevent the flu through hand washing
In addition to getting vaccinated, adults and children alike can help prevent the spread of influenza through simple hygiene practices. The best way to prevent spreading the flu is hand washing. Teaching kids the correct way to wash their hands as well can keep germs from being brought home to younger children and elderly grandparents, who are more susceptible to chronic flu-related illnesses. Everyone should always wash their hands before eating, after coughing or sneezing and after going to the bathroom.