Flu season is upon us, and with it comes the need to make an informed decision about the flu shot. The influenza vaccine is effective, safe, and easy to access. In Canada, it has been shown to reduce visits to the doctor, hospitalizations, and deaths among high-risk adults.
Don’t let the following myths get in the way of you and your family’s health.
Myth #1: The flu shot can give you the flu.
The flu shot doesn’t cause the flu.
There are currently two types of flu vaccines available:
- An “inactivated” influenza vaccine. This version given through injection (the flu shot) contains dead influenza viruses or a protein from the virus. Neither can infect you.
- A “live” attenuated influenza vaccine. This version can be found in the nasal spray flu vaccine and consists of weakened flu viruses. It may cause symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and fever. But these symptoms are much milder and more short-lived than those from a flu infection. People who have compromised or weak immune systems should avoid getting the live vaccine as a precautionary measure.
The most common side effects of the flu vaccine include tenderness, redness, and swelling at the injection site.
Myth #2: It’s better to get the flu than to get the vaccine.
The flu is a serious disease. Among young children, adults over the age of 65, and people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, and lung or heart disease, getting sick with the flu carries the risk of serious and life-threatening complications.
Even among otherwise healthy individuals, complications can result in hospitalization and even death.
Getting vaccinated is much safer than getting the flu. And it’s the best way to avoid passing on the flu to someone you know, including those who may be at an increased risk of developing complications.
Myth #3: The flu shot doesn’t work.
The flu vaccine is the most effective way to protect yourself against the flu. During the Canadian 2015-16 season, research indicated a success rate of 45 to 50%.
Public health experts admit that rate is lower than desired, but it’s important to keep in mind that the vaccine changes every year according to the prevailing strains of the virus. When there is a good match between the vaccine and the circulating flu strains, protection can be 50-60% or higher.
Effectiveness during a particular season may not predict effectiveness in future seasons.
But studies have determined that flu shots offer public health benefits. For people at an increased risk of developing complications, the protection a flu shot offers is significant.
Myth #4: You don’t need to get the flu shot every year.
Circulating strains of the virus change from year to year. Health officials and researchers identify those that are most likely to result in illness during a given season.
Another reason why it’s important to get the flu shot every year is that the immunity developed with a flu shot fades with time. The antibodies which protect you from getting the virus one year won’t protect you for a second year.
Myth #5: Getting the vaccine weakens your immune system.
The flu vaccine does not weaken your immune system. It causes your immune system to produce antibodies that will help you to fight the flu should you be exposed to it. While you may still get the flu even if you have received a flu shot, chances are that you will have a milder form of the disease. This is because your body already contains the antibodies to fight it.
Since the influenza virus strain changes from year to year, developing immunity against the flu one year doesn’t mean you will be protected the next. Getting the flu shot each year is the safest way to protect yourself.
Myth #6: Pregnant women shouldn’t get the vaccine.
The flu shot is safe for both pregnant women and infants over the age of six months. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify pregnant women as more likely to suffer from severe complications caused by the flu.
The immune system reduces its normal level of functioning during pregnancy. In recent years, pregnant women have accounted for a disproportionate number of flu-related deaths.
Millions of women have received the flu shot. Research indicates that the flu shot does not cause harm to expecting women or their babies. Side effects are minor compared to the potential complications that the flu can cause.
Myth #7: The flu shot has serious side effects.
Flu vaccines are safe. The majority of people who receive the flu shot experience a bit of redness, tenderness, and swelling where they got the shot.
People getting the flu shot for the first time may experience muscle aches, tiredness, or a mild headache.
Getting the live version of the virus may result in very mild influenza symptoms.
In rare cases, Gullain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a condition which results in weakness and muscle paralysis, can occur. Research has shown that GBS affects about one person in approximately one million influenza vaccine recipients.