Kansas City,
08:04 PM

Flu Shots: Debunking 5 Popular Myths about the Flu Vaccine

By Dr. Christopher Harrison, Division of Infectious Diseases

The flu season has arrived. We’ve started to see our first cases of influenza and once again we’re expecting moderate flu activity around the country this year. To put it in perspective, one in every three unvaccinated children is predicted to get influenza, while one in nine unvaccinated adults will contract the virus.

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get the flu vaccine. Getting vaccinated can reduce flu illnesses, a trip to the doctor, missed days at school and work, and flu-related deaths in children.

I often hear people tell me why they don’t “want” or “need” to get the vaccine, but here’s why they should reconsider.

Excuse #1 “I don’t get the flu.”

In the average season, influenza disease affects 5–15 percent of adults and 20–30 percent of children both globally and in the United States. Attack rates are higher in seasons with antigenic shift or a pandemic strain, but lower in seasons when influenza strains change little from prior seasons. Based on changes in vaccine strains in the 2017-18, there will likely be strain changes, so we expect higher than average attack rates.

Excuse #2 “The influenza vaccine doesn’t work.”

The influenza vaccine effectiveness varies from year-to-year and is anywhere between 30-80 percent depending on factors such as season (do circulating strains match vaccine strains), age (youngest and oldest are less-well protected), and which subtype predominates. While the flu shot may not be as effective as other vaccines, if the entire eligible US population (estimated 300 million) was immunized, there could be 100 million fewer influenza illnesses even in a suboptimal vaccine effectiveness year.

Excuse #3 “The flu shot makes me sick.”

Inactivated influenza vaccine cannot cause influenza infection. “Inactivated” means that there are no living virus in the vaccine. Most patients readily tolerate the usual mild local pain, swelling and redness at injections sites. The systemic effects (mild headache, achiness or fatigue) are interpreted as “getting the flu,” but these symptoms are similar to those that we feel the day after a hard workout.

Excuse #4 “I already had the flu.”

People who say they already had the flu or as many put it “stomach flu,” haven’t had influenza. True influenza starts off with heavy duty muscle pain, sore throat, headache, eye pain, fatigue and cough that may last for two weeks.

And that’s simple influenza. Each year, 100-150 children die from the flu due to complications. Children, the elderly and pregnant women are at higher risk for complications, but anyone can have an influenza complication. Influenza vaccine is the best way to avoid influenza-related complications.

Excuse #5 “I have an egg allergy.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy recently that physicians can administer influenza vaccine to children and teenagers with egg allergies without any special precautions beyond those that apply to other vaccines.

Flu activity in our region has already started and is expected to peak between December and February, so it’s not too late to receive your vaccination. You’ll want to get it sooner rather than later though, since it takes two weeks for the vaccine to build up immunity in your body.


Watch our doctors debunk the Top 10 Myths About Vaccines

Learn more about staying healthy during flu season.

Learn more about the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Mercy.