5 common flu shot myths, debunked

By Regence
October 14, 2020

Trick or treat? Many people still get tricked by flu shot myths and skip the vaccination altogether—but our medical directors are here to set the story straight.

What do costumes, pumpkin carving and flu shots have in common? They’re all activities people take part in during October. That’s right, even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting your flu shot by Halloween since it takes two weeks to build immunity.

It’s a fact: getting vaccinated is the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from influenza or simply the flu. Even so, some people still get tricked by flu shot myths and pass up the opportunity to protect themselves and their loved ones. Think you know all there is to know? Read on as Regence’s executive medical directors debunk some widely held flu shot myths.

Fact: Getting a flu shot reduces your risk of getting the flu

The effectiveness of the flu shot changes each year, depending on how well the vaccine matches the type of flu viruses circulating during flu season. The CDC says the flu vaccine generally reduces your risk of getting the flu by about 40 to 60 percent.

“There are many strains of the flu virus, and they’re continually changing,” says Dr. Amy Khan, Regence’s executive medical director. “In any one season, these variations could be circulating and making people sick.”

The goal of the flu shot is to expose your immune system to virus-specific substances before you are infected with the flu. This way, your body can develop infection-fighting proteins or antibodies that help protect you when you are exposed to the flu. As a result, you may not get sick at all or you may have a milder case of the flu if infected.

“Getting a flu shot doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not going to get the flu,” says Dr. Khan. “A flu shot provides additional protection, so if you do come down with the flu, you’re likely to have less severe symptoms and to recover more quickly.”

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Fact: Just because you’ve never had the flu doesn’t mean you’re immune or that you can’t infect others

If you’re one of the lucky ones who rarely gets the flu, congratulations on having a healthy immune system! However, you can still spread the illness. According to the CDC, some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick.

Getting a flu shot makes you less likely to give the virus to someone else who may be more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, pregnant women, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions. By protecting those around you from getting the flu, the burden of illness in the community is reduced and lowers the strain on our health care system — doctor’s offices, urgent care centers and emergency departments. This is particularly important this year while we fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We might feel healthy with a mild infection, but still be infectious and infect other people who may be at a high risk for complications. So even if you feel healthy and rarely get sick, getting a flu shot can help save lives,” says Dr. Khan.

Fact: The flu shot may cause mild side effects

The flu vaccine can occasionally cause side effects such as mild aches, fatigue, headache, or a low-grade fever. The most common side effect is discomfort or minor pain around the site of the injection. Because the flu vaccine does not cause the flu, these symptoms aren’t as severe as those from the flu itself and typically resolves within a couple days.

Serious allergic reactions to flu vaccines are very rare. If they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after vaccination. The CDC says that while these reactions can be life-threatening, effective treatments are available.

Fact: You cannot get the flu from a flu shot

Regardless if you choose a flu shot injection or nasal spray, you can’t get the flu from it. The vaccine itself does not contain a live virus, but you may experience a bit of soreness around the shot site or other minor symptoms like a headache or a low-grade fever.

“People will sometimes have discomfort that’s associated with the vaccine itself. They may have a little soreness or feel a little achy but those are the symptoms of your immune system building up,” explains Dr. Jim Polo, Regence’s executive medical director. “You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.”

Fact: Getting a flu shot does not increase your risk of getting COVID-19

The CDC says there is no evidence that getting a flu shot increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus, like the one that causes COVID-19.

“It’s important to remember that you can get infected from both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time,” Dr. Polo. “This makes getting a flu vaccine especially important this year. We don’t know how things are going to progress with COVID-19 so by getting the flu vaccine, it’s one less thing that health care professionals need to worry about.”

The bottom line: Flu shots are effective and are an important step in protecting against the flu. So, treat yourself and your family and get your flu shot this season.