Now that the kids are back in school, it’s not just time to start focusing on football and pumpkin spice. If you have set foot in any pharmacy over the last couple of weeks, surely you have noticed all the posters advertising the flu vaccine. Yep, it’s time to get the flu shot!
Flu season, which is not our favorite time of the year, can run anywhere from October to May. That means you have eight months during which you can be infected. That’s a long time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the seasonal flu vaccine “protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines…are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus.” So let’s jump right into all the reasons you might have for not getting the shot.
1. “The flu vaccine doesn’t work”
The scientists who create the flu shot are making their best guesses as to what will be the most common viruses to circle the globe during flu season. While they’re not psychic, they are using the best information they have. Is the vaccine 100 percent effective at preventing the virus? No. Some years, the efficacy of the shot is as low as 30-40 percent. BUT, what even an imperfect vaccine can do is ward off a severe case of the flu. Without getting a shot, a person afflicted with the flu can develop severe, and even deadly, symptoms and complications, including (but not limited to) pneumonia. As of June 2018, 172 children died from the flu last season. Most of these children were otherwise healthy, and 80 percent of them did not get the flu shot. And if that’s not enough to convince you, in the 2012-13 flu season, 56,000 people died as a result of the virus.
So yes, you might still get the flu if you get the flu shot, but your symptoms will not be as severe and won’t last as long as someone who doesn’t get the vaccine. The flu can take you out of commission for weeks. That’s a lot of lost time at work and with the family.
2. “I’ll get the flu from the flu shot”
No, you won’t. According to the CDC, the flu vaccine is made “either with… flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or… with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine).” Neither can give you the flu. It is possible to have a mild reaction, such as soreness, redness at the injection site, or a low-grade fever (which is not terribly common), but these are generally caused by the body’s immune response to the foreign substance in the system. Any discomfort is unlikely to last more than a day or two.
3. “I’m not in the high-risk group, so I don’t need the vaccine”
You might not be “high-risk,” which includes children under 6 months old, adults over 65, pregnant women, or anyone who is immunocompromised, like those undergoing chemotherapy, but if you ever leave your house, then you have the chance to infect those very people. Herd immunity, when populations are immune and therefore cannot spread a particular illness to vulnerable individuals within that community, is a real thing. By not getting the vaccine, you are increasing the risk that you can spread the flu to someone who is not strong enough to fight it.
4. “The flu shot contains dangerous ingredients”
Some of the ingredients in the flu shot worry people to the point of not getting the vaccine, but here is what we know and why it’s safe:
- The preservative thimerosal is added to the vaccine to prevent bacteria and fungi from growing in the vial. It contains mercury, but an amount that is too small to be considered harmful. Nonetheless, if you are concerned, thimerosal-free shots are available.
- Formaldehyde, which is a natural compound, is used in the vaccine to inactivate the virus. According to Healthline, “the level of formaldehyde that remains in a vaccine…is much lower than the amount that occurs naturally in the human body.”
Getting the flu vaccine can literally mean the difference between life or death — for you or someone you care about. Don’t be cavalier about getting the shot. Many flu-related deaths and hospitalizations are preventable with five minutes at your local pharmacy or doctor’s office. Since it can take up to two weeks for the immunity to build up in your body, it is always smarter to get vaccinated sooner than later.