Brace yourselves: Flu season is coming. And along with the coughing, fevers and aches, you can expect a lot of unreliable or downright false information about the flu vaccine. While you can’t entirely germ-proof yourself or your children, you can learn to separate fact from fiction, keep your family healthier, and save time, money and frustration. Let’s start by putting some of the more common myths and misunderstandings to rest.
I still have time — flu season hasn’t started yet.
The timing of flu season is unpredictable. While it tends to peak from October to January, it’s hard to say when the virus will start making its rounds. Not only that, but it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to kick in. If you procrastinate, you could end up getting it too late in the season to help. And what’s worse than getting both a shot and sick?
I’m protected because I received the flu vaccine last year.
The virus strains can change every year, so last year’s vaccine may not be effective against this year’s virus strains. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that trivalent vaccines for use in the 2017-2018 northern hemisphere influenza season contain the following:
- an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus;
- an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus; and
- a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus.
I can’t get a flu shot because I have a cold
As long as you don’t have a fever above 38 Celsius or any other significant illness, it’s okay to get the flu shot before your cold clears up.
Flu vaccinations are only for older people.
Not true! The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu vaccine for anyone six months and older. Only in very rare cases does the CDC say people should not receive the flu shot, so you’re running out of excuses!
These are the following groups the CDC says should not get the shot:
People who have had a severe reaction to the influenza vaccine
People with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome after receiving the flu vaccine
People who are moderately or severely ill—they should wait until they’re better before being vaccinated
The flu shot will make me sick.
Flu shots are made with inactivated flu virus, which cannot give you the actual flu. The most common reaction is soreness or redness at the site of the injection. A very small percentage of people will get a low-grade fever and aches as their body builds up an immune response, but this will only last one to two days.
Antibiotics can kill the germs that cause colds and the flu.
Antibiotics work well against bacterial infections, but they don’t treat a viral infection like the flu. If someone develops a serious complication of the flu, such as pneumonia, then they need antibiotics. But antibiotics won’t help your flu at all and may actually cause unwanted side effects.
I’m pregnant so I should not get the shot.
Incorrect! The flu vaccine protects both you and your baby. The flu is, in fact, more likely to cause severe illness and complications if you’re expecting. It can also cause premature labor and other health issues for your baby. And here’s good news: the flu shot you get now will protect your baby after his or her birth.
Flu vaccines don’t work. I’ll probably catch the flu anyway.
Every year, scientists attempt to predict which strains of the flu virus will be most prevalent that fall. It’s a tough estimate, as the flu can mutate quickly over months, and sometimes even within a single season. But if you do end up catching the flu, you’ll have a much milder case of it if you got the vaccine. Flu vaccines reduce the risk of flu substantially, though their effectiveness in any particular year varies. The flu vaccine cuts your risk of getting the flu by 50 to 70 per cent.
So if you think the flu isn’t a big deal, then you’ve probably never had the flu. If you come visit Family Medical Practice Hanoi in October and November, you’ll see people of all ages, dehydrated and feeling miserable.
Even worse, certain groups of people are even more vulnerable and can develop deadly complications from the flu. Thousands of people die every year from the flu—as many as 49,000, and over 200,000 are hospitalized.
It’s that time of the year again—flu shot time. Go get your flu shot! – Family Medical Practice Vietnam.
* Dr. Philippe Jean Collin is a French Pediatrician with Family Medical Practice Hanoi. He is a member of the French Society of Pediatrics, American Society of Nephrologists, and the Pediatric Academy Societies.