Flu Vaccine Facts

Flu season is under way, and, along with it, lots of confusion and unreliable information.

Flu season is under way, and, along with it, lots of confusion and unreliable information. Maybe you’re not sure you want to get vaccinated this year. Let’s separate these 7 common flu shot facts from fiction.

Fiction: The flu shot can give you the flu.Fact: It is not possible to get the flu from the influenza vaccine.

Most people don’t have any adverse effects (AEs) from the influenza vaccine, and when AEs do occur, they are usually very mild. Although soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling is common where the flu shot is given, the flu shot cannot cause you to get the flu. This is because influenza vaccines are made with viruses that are inactivated or attenuated (weakened); recombinant flu vaccines have no virus at all.

Some vaccine reactions have been reported after the nasal spray vaccine is given; these AEs include runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, chills, tiredness/weakness, sore throat, and headache. Although these AEs sound similar to flu symptoms, they are mild and short-lasting.

When individuals report getting the flu after getting vaccinated, it’s likely that they were already sick or were exposed to the flu virus during the 2-week period it takes for immunity to set in. Another explanation is that some rhinoviruses, which are associated with the common cold, cause symptoms similar to the flu and can be mistaken for the flu.

Fiction: It’s okay to skip the flu shot if you’ve gotten vaccinated in previous years.Fact: You need a flu vaccine every year.

Unlike the polio and chickenpox vaccines, protection from flu vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get the “optimal” or best protection against the flu. Although you may have some protection if you got the flu vaccine last year, there is no way to know how much.

The flu vaccine protects against several strains of flu that scientists predict will be the dominant strains most likely to circulate this year. Trivalent vaccines protect against 3 strains of the flu, for instance, while quadrivalent vaccines protect against 4 strains. However, these dominant strains mutate, or change, from year to year.

Therefore, the viruses that you were immunized against last year are now different. A new flu shot will give you protection against the types of flu that are likely to cause an outbreak this year. The CDC is not recommending the nasal spray vaccine for use during the 2016-2017 season because of concerns about its effectiveness.

Fiction: It’s too late to get the flu shot.Fact: It’s not too late to get a flu vaccine until flu season is over.

The CDC recommends that flu vaccinations begin soon after vaccine becomes available, if possible by October. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccinations can still be beneficial, even in January or later because flu activity can begin as early as September and continue as late as May. That means you have plenty of opportunity to come into contact with flu viruses—and you want to make sure that you’re protected against them.

Fiction: Pregnant women should not get the flu shot.Fact: Pregnant women should get the flu vaccine.

Because the body undergoes changes to the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy, pregnant women, and individuals who recently gave birth, are more likely to experience severe illness, hospitalization, and even death from the flu.

Vaccination during pregnancy provides protection to the mother and her unborn child. Influenza antibodies are passed to the fetus during pregnancy and provide protection after birth, at a time when the child is too young to be vaccinated.

Any woman who is pregnant or considering pregnancy during the flu season should be vaccinated. The CDC recommends that pregnant women get a flu shot during any trimester of their pregnancy to protect themselves, their unborn babies, and their newborn babies from the flu. The nasal spray vaccine is not recommended for use in pregnant women.

Fiction: People who are allergic to eggs should not get the flu shot.Fact: People with egg allergies can get the flu vaccine.

The CDC recommendations for people with egg allergies have been updated for the 2016-2017 season. Individuals who have experienced hives but no other symptoms after exposure to egg can get any licensed flu vaccine that is appropriate for their age and health. For individuals who have experienced angioedema (swelling just below the surface of the skin, most often around the lips and eyes), respiratory distress, lightheadedness, or repeated vomiting, or who have needed epinephrine or another emergency medical intervention following egg exposure, the CDC also recommends any licensed flu vaccine that is appropriate for their age and health. However, the vaccine should be given in a medical setting and be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic conditions.

People who should talk to their health care providers before getting the influenza vaccine include those with Guillain-Barré syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness also called GBS) and those with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients.

Fiction: If you’re young and healthy, you don’t need a flu shot.Fact: The CDC recommends the influenza vaccine for everyone older than 6 months.

The flu is a serious viral illness that can make anyone sick, even otherwise healthy people.

Individuals who are most vulnerable to the flu are children younger than 2 years, individuals older than 65 years, pregnant women, and individuals with conditions such as chronic lung disease, heart disease, and neurologic and developmental conditions, according to the CDC.

If you fall outside those groups, you’re less likely to have flu-related complications that could send you to the hospital. But you can still get the flu, and it is a tough illness that can cause fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some individuals, especially children, may also have vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms typically last 2 to 3 days and may even affect you for a week or more.

Only children younger than 6 months and those with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine should not get the flu vaccine. People with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome should discuss flu vaccination with their physicians.

Fiction: I got the flu shot, and now it is impossible for me to get the flu.Fact: The flu vaccine reduces your risk of getting the flu.

The flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you from getting the flu. In addition to getting vaccinated, you can take everyday preventive steps such as staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. The flu vaccine only reduces your risk; it cannot guarantee you won’t get the flu. If you do get the flu despite getting the vaccine, your illness is generally much milder. If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading it to others.

RECOMMENDED READING

Frequently asked flu questions 2016-2017 influenza season. CDC website. cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2016-2017.htm. Accessed September 9, 2016. Worried about the flu shot? let’s separate fact from fiction. NPR website. npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/11/24/457103549/worried- about-the-flu-shot-lets-separate-fact-from-fiction?utm_content= buffer09a53&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook. com&utm_campaign=buffer. Published November 24, 2015. Accessed September 9, 2016. Beth is a freelance health and science writer based in Northern California. She’s on Twitter: @beth_bolt.