Let’s debunk: 6 myths about the flu shot

Who should get a flu shot?

Fall is here and with the colorful foliage comes all things pumpkin spice, football and unfortunately – the flu. Just like a strong defense is a recipe for success on the gridiron, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests a flu vaccination is your best protection against influenza.

While flu is most serious for older Americans and individuals with certain chronic conditions, it can affect people of all ages. Younger children, especially those younger than age 2, “are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications,” per the CDC.

Last season, the CDC reported a decline in flu hospitalizations and deaths, citing masking and social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic as likely contributions to the decrease.

However, reduced COVID-19 restrictions may result in increased influenza activity starting in October. The CDC says the best way to protect yourself and your family is by getting a vaccine early in fall. Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone, ages 6 months and up — with few exceptions.

“Annual flu shots can prevent you from missing work or an important event that you have been looking forward to attending,” said Dr. Donna O’Shea, chief medical officer of population health for UnitedHealthcare.

If you’re unsure whether the vaccine is right for you and your family, some important information may help cut through the confusion.

Here are a few common myths and the facts that help disprove them:

Myth #1: Flu shots don’t really work

Facts: The flu vaccine reduces the risk of the illness by between 40% and 60%, according to the CDC. The vaccine’s effectiveness depends on multiple factors, including the amount of time between vaccination and exposure to the disease, your age and health status. Additionally, the CDC says flu vaccinations benefit general public health, especially when the vaccine is well matched to viruses circulating in a given year.

Myth #2: I got vaccinated last year, so I should be good for this year, too

Facts: The flu virus changes each year, so flu vaccines change as well. Plus, the body’s immune response to a flu vaccine declines over time, which means a yearly vaccination is the best option for protection, according to the CDC.

Myth #3: I exercise and eat healthy food, so I don’t need to get vaccinated

Facts: It is true that being healthy may help you recover from illness more quickly, but it may not prevent you from getting or spreading the flu. Healthy people can be infected and spread the flu virus without showing symptoms.

Myth #4: I got the COVID-19 vaccine, so I can’t get the flu vaccine

Facts:  The viruses are different, and so are the vaccines used to prevent them. There are no interactions between the vaccines, and both are recommended by the CDC to help maintain optimal health. Additionally, if you want to save a trip, you can get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine or booster at the same time. Additional vaccines can be given at the same time you receive your influenza or COVID vaccinations.

Myth #5: The flu vaccine causes strong side effects

Facts: The side effects of the flu vaccine are generally mild, according to the CDC. Some people may have soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever or minor aches, but these issues are typically short-lived. The CDC stresses, because of how the vaccines are produced, you cannot get influenza from the flu shot or the nasal spray vaccine.

Myth #6: Getting the flu is not that serious

Facts: The CDC cautions that the flu illness can vary from mild to severe. When severe, it may result in hospitalization and even death. The flu resulted in an estimated 52,000 deaths a year between 2010 and 2020, according to the CDC. Reducing the risk of flu is especially important for these groups:

  • People who have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease
  • Pregnant women
  • Young children, especially those under 5 years old
  • People 65 and older

Even for people outside of these groups, flu symptoms can disrupt work, school or social life for several weeks or more.

Now is the time to get a flu vaccine, which is considered preventive, and, in most cases, covered through employer-sponsored, individual, Medicare and Medicaid health plans. Vaccines are available through primary care physicians, convenience care clinics and most local pharmacies.

The CDC emphasizes that getting your flu shot may be especially important this year as both flu and COVID-19 continue circulating. Prevent missing out on fall activities by getting caught up on vaccination.

Find a flu shot location near you.

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