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A Case For The Curious: The Truth About The Flu Shot

Not only does October bring the beginning of fall and the excitement of the coming holidays, it also brings the beginning of flu season. The 2017-2018 influenza season was a high severity season, meaning there were high levels of outpatient clinic and emergency department visits.  

 The truth about the flu shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu annually. And those most at risk—young children and the elderly—are more likely to suffer severe complications, hospitalizations, or even death from catching the flu.  


Many of the severe complications related to the flu could be prevented by getting a flu shot. And today, it’s never been easier to find one. Most retail pharmacies and stores like Target and Wal Mart have the shots available. In addition, many stores offer promotions or gift cards for getting one. 


But…if access isn’t the problem, what keeps most people from getting a flu shot? Many times it’s a misconception about the vaccine itself. Below are the most common excuses we hear from patients on why they forwent their flu shot. Before skipping out this year, make sure to keep reading to help debunk any misconceptions.  


Myth: You can catch the flu from the vaccine 


This is the most popular excuse to not get the vaccine.  Everyone has a story about how they or their friend caught the flu after receiving the vaccine. But this myth is absolutely false. The flu vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that is incapable of transmitting the infection. Many times, people coincidentally get sick in the days after the shot, but in most instances they were sick before the shot and just were not showing symptoms.  


Myth: The flu shot doesn’t work 


While the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, in a good year it’s about 70% effective. That “effective rate” is dependent upon the strain of flu since the virus mutates every year. Scientists have to predict which strain will go into the vaccine months before the beginning of flu season. The shot is also less effective in children under two and adults over 65, which is another reason it’s important that the majority of the population get vaccinated. 


During the 2017-2018 season, the vaccine effective rate against both influenza A and B viruses was estimated to be 40%. This means the flu vaccine reduced a person’s overall risk of having to seek medical care at a doctor’s office for flu illness by 40%. 


Myth: I should wait until later in the season so I don’t get sick then 


Many people forget that flu season starts in October. In fact, there have already been deaths this year from the flu. Don’t wait until you start hearing from friends who have it or an outbreak occurs at your child’s school. During the 2017-2018 flu season, the virus actually began to increase substantially in November. And that’s right around the corner! Most years, the flu peaks in January, much earlier than many people realize. Couple that with the fact that it takes at least 10 days for the shot to be completely effective, and you may have waited too long if you don’t get a vaccine now. 


Myth: I never get sick, I don’t need the shot 


Getting the vaccine not only protects you against the virus, but also protects populations that are particularly susceptible to becoming ill. This is why health care providers and those who interact with young children are highly encouraged to become vaccinated. 


Over 23,000 people per year die from the flu. To put that in perspective, 30,000 people die annually in car crashes. 


It’s also possible to spread the flu without realizing it. 20-30% of people inflected with the flu show no symptoms yet are still contagious. For those with a weak or compromised immune system, any interaction could be deadly.  


In addition to getting a vaccine early this year, it’s important to practice good preventative measures like hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough. If you think you are coming down with the flu, visit your doctor as soon as possible since some medications that can receive symptoms need to be taken in the first 48 hours. 

Also published on Medium.

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