By Karyn Johnson, Public Health Educator
Over the years I have heard many reasons why people choose to get vaccinated against the flu. Unfortunately, I have also heard a few reasons why people choose not to get a flu vaccine (injectable or nasal spray), many of those reasons are based on incorrect information. Even though the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age, there are still a number of myths and misconceptions regarding the vaccine that lead people to not be vaccinated. Let’s take a look at a few of the most common myths:
- The flu vaccine will give you the flu. Injectable flu vaccines are either made with killed flu viruses or small parts of the viruses. The flu nasal spray contains a weakened virus that cannot grow at a person’s normal body temperature. Both flu vaccine options cannot cause the flu. Some people may have redness where the shot is given and / or feel a little achy or feverish for 1- 2 days following the vaccine, this is normal and shows you that your immune system is responding to build up protection against the flu. If you do get the flu after getting the flu vaccine, most likely you were exposed before getting vaccinated or within the two weeks after vaccination before the flu vaccine becomes effective. In some cases, you may have been exposed to a flu strain that was not included in the flu vaccine, or exposed to a different illness all together.
- The flu shot doesn’t work. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies, depending on how good a match the flu strains in the vaccine are to the circulating strains, and the health and age of the person receiving the vaccine. Although the protection from vaccination is not perfect, it is the best defense we have. Even during seasons when the vaccine is not a great match to circulating flu strains, the vaccine can reduce how severe a person’s illness is, and reduce the risk of hospitalization or death due to the flu.
- It is too late in the season to get a flu shot. In Central New York, we often do not see the highest numbers of flu cases until February or later. Although getting vaccinated earlier is encouraged, getting vaccinated in December and into the New Year can still offer protection during the time when the number of flu cases are at the highest levels.
- I have never had the flu, so I don’t need to get the vaccine. If you have never had the flu you can count yourself as lucky! However, this does not mean you are immune to getting the flu in the future. The flu is an unpredictable virus. Just because you are a generally healthy person does not mean the flu cannot be serious. Although many people who die from the flu are medically compromised, many are not.
- The flu is not that serious. The last flu season (2017-2018) was particularly severe, with an estimated number of 79,000 deaths due to influenza (CDC, Influenza Division program impact report 2017-2018). Some people, such as older people, young children, people with chronic health conditions, and pregnant women are at a higher risk for serious flu complications.
Don’t let flu myths keep you from staying healthy this winter! The Onondaga County Health Department Immunization Clinic has flu vaccines available for uninsured and underinsured Onondaga County residents 6 months of age and up. The clinic is held every Wednesday from 9:00am – 12 Noon in the John H. Mulroy Civic Center, Room 30. This is a walk-in clinic, no appointments are necessary. For more information on the flu or where you can get a flu shot, ask your health care provider or call 315-435-2000.