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Flu Vaccine Myth Busters

Richard Wehseler, MD
Family Medicine, ACMC-New London/Spicer

Each year, millions of people suffer from influenza — better known as flu — that leads to nasty fevers, headaches, coughs, muscle pains and runny noses that make many people miserable in the fall and winter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last year's flu season set new records for both numbers of children who died from the flu and for hospitalizations related to the flu.

You've probably already seen ads letting you know its time to get your flu shot. Every year myths about flu vaccine can spread as quickly as the flu itself. Many people avoid getting a flu shot because misinformation steers them away from this important annual vaccine. Let's find out what's a myth and what's factual when it comes to flu vaccine.

Myth: The flu vaccine can give you the flu.

Fact: A flu shot cannot give you the flu. The flu vaccine in a flu shot (given with a needle) is made with flu viruses that have been "inactivated" (killed), making it unable to cause illness. The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses, however, they are weakened, so that they will not cause influenza illness.

Myth: I got vaccinated late last year. That flu shot should be good for this year too.

Fact: A body's response to a flu vaccine declines over time. And, because flu viruses are always changing, the strains are reviewed each year and are sometimes revised to keep up with changing flu viruses.

Myth: Children and pregnant women should not get the flu shot.

Fact: The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated each year, including pregnant women and people with certain chronic health conditions.

Myth: Flu shots don't work. I got the vaccine last year and still got the flu.

Fact: Flu vaccine can reduce your risk of contracting the flu by approximately 40-60 percent. However, flu viruses are always changing. Every year, scientists try to design the flu vaccine, so it matches the actual flu viruses that are circulating, but since the viruses are a moving target, the vaccine isn't perfect. The age and health of the person getting vaccinated can also make a difference. But there's good news: even if you do get the flu after getting the shot, the vaccine lowers the possibility of complications like pneumonia and landing in the hospital.

There is no way of predicting who will get the flu — or who could become seriously ill from it. Remember, if you don't get the flu vaccine you have zero added protection when you're exposed to the virus. Being vaccinated also helps protect people around you; if you can't catch the flu, then you can't spread the infection. It's important to do your part to protect others in our community who may be vulnerable and aren't able to get the shot, such as babies under 6 months and adults with low immunity.

Armed with this information you can make an informed decision on the best time to get your flu shot.