by Laura Jordhen, MD
The Northwest rain has arrived. Little goblins and ghouls have stashed their candy and suddenly holiday decorations are everywhere—yes, it’s that time again, flu shot time!
Influenza rates are low now in Oregon and Washington but are climbing. It’s the perfect time to roll up your sleeve and arm your immune system to fight off the flu.
As a family medicine physician, I unequivocally recommend influenza vaccination for my patients 6 months and older. I love knowing my patients are protected against this potentially deadly disease and that they won’t pass it on to people they care about. There are only a few medical reasons not to get an influenza vaccination and they are quite uncommon.
Even if you are in the vast majority of people who can safely get a flu shot though, it’s normal to have concerns about whether flu shots are necessary, safe, and effective. There are many myths circulating that makes some patients hesitant to get protected. Read on to debunk common myths about influenza vaccination and feel confident you can take your best shot.
Myth #1: Influenza vaccination causes influenza.
- The injectable vaccination is not a live virus, so you can’t get influenza from it. You can get fever and body aches after a vaccination, which is a sign your immune system is working—making those antibodies to protect you all winter. In addition, influenza vaccination is given at a time of year when many people are getting colds and coughs. Some will certainly get the common cold after they get their influenza vaccination.
Myth #2: I never got influenza before, so I don’t need vaccination.
- I never got in a car accident before, but I do wear my seatbelt to protect myself from situations that are out of my control.
Myth #3: Vaccinations are harmful for the immune system.
- It would take 10000 vaccines at the same time to temporarily use up all your body’s ability to fight of foreign bacteria and viruses. Your body is constantly reacting to the germs on your hands, the germs in the food you eat, and the germs your kids and pets are sharing with you and can handle all of that at the same time. Vaccines use this natural process to help protect you from the flu.
Myth #4: Flu vaccination is ineffective.
- Did you know influenza vaccination can reduce the risk of death and serious complications in the elderly by 70-85%? Influenza vaccination doesn’t prevent the common cold though, so many people still have coughs and sniffles.
Myth #5: Influenza vaccination commonly causes serious side effects.
- Vaccinations can cause serious side effects in very rare cases. They can cause allergic reactions, which are treatable. There is a possible link to Guillain Barre syndrome, a serious neurologic illness—this can happen after vaccination, with a risk of one or two cases 100,000 vaccinated. This is actually the same rate as for people who don’t get vaccinated—and is far lower than the risk of getting the same syndrome following Influenza infection! A young child who gets a fever can have a seizure from a fever, and that can happen after flu shot. Fevers are much higher and last longer with influenza illness.
Myth #6: Natural immunity is better than vaccine induced immunity.
- Vaccine induced immunity can be as strong as natural immunity in most cases and is a lot more pleasant to acquire!
Myth #7: I don’t get very sick from Influenza.
- True, you may only miss a week of work or school, but you could spread the disease to someone who could get much more ill. Getting vaccinated is a way to take care of the youngsters and seniors you love.
 Offit et al, Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Multiple Vaccines Overwhelm or Weaken the Infant’s Immune System? Pediatrics, January 2002, VOLUME 109 / ISSUE 1
 Weekly Epidemiological Record No. 28, 2002, 77, July 12, 2002
 Monto et al, Misconceptions concerning Influenza, an overview and clear answers. J. Vaccine 2006.06.071