It’s that time of year… and no, we don’t mean the holiday season (though that’s coming up, too). It’s flu season, which means you’ll see signs everywhere urging you to get vaccinated. But there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the flu vaccine. Hopefully this crash course can help you make an informed decision:
Myth: The vaccine doesn’t work.
Fact: Strains of the flu in circulation change from season to season, and vaccines are formulated well in advance, in anticipation of the most common strains. Because of this – and because some populations respond differently to the vaccine than others – efficacy rates do vary. On average, the vaccine is 56 percent effective, though results for some years have seen vaccines prove to be 90 percent effective.
Myth: The vaccine can actually give you the flu.
Fact: You cannot get the flu from a flu shot, because the viruses present in the vaccine are dead. Each batch of vaccines is then tested. “In randomized, blinded studies, where some people get flu shots and others get salt-water shots,” reports the CDC, “the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose, or sore throat.”
Myth: I never get the flu, so I don’t need the vaccine.
Fact: As we said above, the viruses that make the rounds in one year may not in the next. So not being affected in one season doesn’t mean you aren’t susceptible in the next. Likewise, having a mild case of the flu in one year doesn’t mean it couldn’t affect you more severely in future seasons.
Myth: I have some food allergies, so I shouldn’t get the vaccine.
Fact: Only you and your doctor can decide whether the flu shot is right for you. Yes, the vaccine is prepared in eggs, and yes, it may not be appropriate for those with a severe anaphylactic reaction to eggs. But for those with milder egg allergies, the shot may be safe – as long as they discuss it with a doctor and are observed for half an hour afterwards. And good news: a new vaccine that doesn’t use eggs has recently been approved.
Myth: I shouldn’t get the vaccine because I’m pregnant.
Fact: The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says the flu shot is essential for pregnant women, since they are “at increased risk for serious complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, various infections, and dehydration.” However, the nasal spray (which contains live but weakened viruses) version of the vaccine should not be taken by expectant mothers.
Image: flu shot!, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from samantha celera’s photostream.