Five myths about flu shots, explored and debunked

Myths about the influenza vaccine circulate every year and make it difficult for some to decide whether to get the shot, Tom Watkins reports for CNN.

This prompted him to look at five of the most common myths and presents the “truth based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Perhaps the most common myth is that the flu shot can give you the flu. The CDC says the virus in flu shots is dead and cannot cause infection. So why do some people feel bad after a flu shot? The CDC says that this is often caused by soreness at the injection site, which is caused by the immune system working to create antibodies to the killed viruses in the vaccine. Or, you could be sick with another seasonal illness that acts like the flu or have a flu virus that is not in the vaccine. Finally, especially among the elderly and people with weak immune systems, although the CDC says it still can prevent complications in this high-risk group. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices says “symptoms, in rare instances, include fever, muscle pain, and discomfort or weakness, which also typically go away after a day or two,” Watkins reports.

Another myth is that it is better to get the vaccine late in the season so it will last longer. The CDC says that this is not true, Watkins reports: “The shot lasts an entire flu season, except for some children who may need two doses.”

The third myth is that the flu shot might adversely affect pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says “The flu vaccine is an essential element of prenatal care,” and recommends a flu shot for all pregnant women, who are at higher risk for flu complications. Pregnant women should only get a flu shot, and not the nasal vaccine.

The fourth myth is the belief that “I’ve had the flu before and it was no big deal, so bring it on.” This is a fallacy, Watkins reports, because seasonal flu “exacts a bigger toll in some years than in others because the viruses that circulate in one may differ than those that circulate in another” and people’s response to viral infections differ from year to year.

The final myth is that the flu shot doesn’t work. Watkins writes that while “it doesn’t work all the time, it does offer some level of protection.” According to the CDC, one study in 2010-2011 showed 60 percent efficacy for all age groups, and studies from earlier years found protection rates of up to 90 percent.

The CDC recommends that all people older than 6 months get a flu vaccine. They also recommend that you get it early because it takes two weeks from the time of the injection for the flu shot to work.

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