By: Dr. Dana Mueller, Director of Adult and Family Medicine.
As a primary care doctor, I recommend almost all my patients get vaccinated against Influenza (or Flu). Young, old, pregnant, healthy, or chronically ill – every person should ask their primary care provider if the flu vaccine is right for them! I hear many concerns from patients about why the flu vaccine isn’t a good idea. I would like to address some of the most common concerns I hear in order to promote a better understanding of the importance of the flu vaccination.
“The vaccine gave me the flu.”
The flu shot contains a dead virus which cannot infect you. The most common reactions to the flu shot are muscle soreness and mild redness at the injection site. Some people note mild fevers or body aches; doctors believe this is your body practicing its response to the flu.
The flu vaccine comes in two forms, a shot and a nasal spray. Both are protective against the flu and are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The nasal spray contains weakened, temperature-regulated virus, which dies when it tries to leave the nose for the warmer areas inside the body, like the blood and lungs. The nasal spray can cause runny nose, body aches, and a cough; again, this is your body preparing itself. Regardless, these mild reactions are significantly less uncomfortable than the illness caused by the flu itself.
Our body is smart, so a dead-or-weakened virus is enough to trigger our body’s defense system to create antibodies to fight the flu the next time you’re exposed – this protection is called immunity. Immunity takes about 2 weeks to develop, so if you’ve been exposed to the flu virus in the days before you got the shot, you still may get sick in the days after.
“I got it last year. Then, in February, I got sick and you told me I had the flu! Why bother?”
Thank you for getting the vaccine last year. Every year researchers do their best to estimate what the most common types of the flu virus will be, and the top 3 or 4 get put into the vaccine. But there are way more than 3 or 4 types of flu, as well as other respiratory viruses than can make you feel snotty and feverish and sore. Getting vaccinated reduces your risk of getting the flu by about 60%. It also reduces the severity of the illness if you are unlucky enough to get it, which helps get you back to your normal life faster.
“I got it last winter, do I really need it again?”
Flu season runs from mid-to-late fall until late winter/early spring (depending on the year). The flu virus is constantly changing to try to get around our immune systems, so the vaccine from last year isn’t that helpful at protecting against what will be circulating this winter. Testing shows that the level of protection after 6 months is significantly reduced, so even if you got a shot in February of last winter, you should still get vaccinated this year.
“I never get the flu vaccine and I never get sick.”
Lucky you! While I hope your luck holds out, getting the flu vaccine is the #1 way to prevent infection with the flu virus. Furthermore, getting the flu vaccine helps protect the people around you too. If you’re protected, you’re less likely to transmit the virus to friends and family. The more people who are protected, the less likely your community will be hit hard by a bad strain of the flu.
“I’m allergic to eggs.”
There’s a common belief that mild egg allergies like hives or rashes mean you cannot get the flu vaccine. Fortunately, this isn’t true! Only people who have serious anaphylactic reactions should not get the flu. People with milder allergies should get it at their doctor’s office where they can be safely observed, but reactions are very rare.
“I’m trying to get pregnant. Will getting vaccinated be bad for the baby?”
Vaccination is GREAT for your baby. A healthy pregnancy doesn’t just mean staying active and limiting weight gain; it also means getting vaccinated and avoiding illnesses. Also, if you are pregnant, you will pass on some of your body’s protective mechanisms to your new baby, which is so important because babies can’t be vaccinated against the flu in the first 6 months of life and children under 5 are at higher risk of serious illnesses due to the flu.
It’s Flu season and the holidays are around the corner. Don’t let the Flu ruin your festivities. Get vaccinated! Request an appointment online by clicking here.