The flu season is unpredictable—it can begin sooner and last longer than the previous year. The range of influenza cases can also vary. For example, in 2018 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) map of flu activity in the United States showed a uniform red for the first time, indicating widespread influenza occurred in every state.
The flu shot is a dependable tool for staying healthy, according to Dr. Robert Duncan, an infectious disease specialist at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. It’s the best mechanism we have to prevent influenza.
Myths and Facts About the Flu
Unfortunately, there are myths about the flu shot that keep people from getting it. Dr. Duncan explains where these myths get it wrong.
Myth: Flu shots aren’t very effective
Fact: The flu vaccine is designed each year based on the flu strains found in the Southern Hemisphere. This works because the flu typically starts earlier there than in the Northern Hemisphere. While the flu shot’s effectiveness varies from year to year, in 2017 it was 34 percent effective, Dr. Duncan points out that being one-third less likely to get the flu is an important advantage.
If you do get the flu, it will be milder than if you hadn’t gotten the vaccine. And, flu shots help prevent pneumonia and other serious complications. For some people, especially the very young and very old, getting a flu shot can be a life-saving step.
Myth: The flu vaccine can give you the flu
Fact: The flu vaccine is made from killed virus, so it can’t cause the flu. It’s possible to catch the flu after getting the vaccine, but not because of the vaccine.
Myth: The flu isn’t dangerous
Fact: While many people think of the flu as an inconvenience, it’s actually a dangerous disease. It can lead to serious complications such as:
- Heart attacks or strokes
- Pneumonia, especially in young children and older adults
- Organ failure
The flu vaccine is safe during pregnancy and protects the baby for six months after birth. This reduces the need for hospital admission for influenza by 90 percent.
Myth: If you’re allergic to eggs you shouldn’t get a flu shot
Fact: The flu vaccine is produced in eggs, and a tiny amount of egg protein remains after purification. However, recent studies show that the flu vaccine is safe for people with egg allergies and the CDC says that no special considerations are needed. People who are concerned about having a reaction can see an allergist to have the shot in a monitored environment.
Myth: If you wait too long it’s too late to get a flu shot
Fact: The flu season typically runs from December to May. However, some years it peaks early and other years it peaks late. For example, in 2009, the H1N1 virus—commonly referred to as swine flu—had two peaks. The CDC recommends getting a flu shot between September and mid-November, but if you miss that window you can have it anytime during flu season.
Myth: Young children shouldn’t get a flu shot
Fact: Children should start getting their annual flu shot at age 6 months. It’s especially important for kids in daycare, who often bring home the flu and give it to their family.
*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.