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7 Myths About the Flu Shot

Believe it or not, the 2019-2020 flu season has already started, with scattered outbreaks reported around the country. According to the Florida Department of Health (FDH), during the last four weeks, influenza A (H3), influenza A 2009 (H1N1), and influenza B Victoria lineage viruses were identified as circulating in Florida. At least one child—a four-year-old in Riverside, CA—has died this year from complications of the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone receive their flu shot by the end of this month, and our family practice doctors at Cohen Medical Associates in Delray Beach support that recommendation.

Last year, nearly 61,000 Americans died from the flu, including 129 children. There were approximately 42.9 million cases of the flu, with 647,000 of those requiring hospitalizations. And that was considered a mild season (although it was the longest season in a decade, beginning in October and ending in May).

Less than half the population receives an annual flu shot. Part of the problem with compliance is the prevalence of a number of myths that continue to swirl around the flu shot. So we wanted to take this opportunity to dispel the most common ones.

Myth #1: You can get the flu from the flu shot

False. You may get the flu even after you receive the shot because: (a) you became infected before you got the shot (it takes about two weeks to take effect); (b) you got a strain of influenza that wasn’t protected against in the shot; (c) the shot wasn’t effective for you. But studies have shown that even if you get the flu after getting the shot, the symptoms will likely be less severe.

Myth #2: Pregnant women shouldn’t get it

False. The flu shot is not only safe for pregnant women, it may also confer a measure of immunity to the baby for several months after birth. A 2018 study showed that getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with the flu by an average of 40 percent.

Myth #3: Flu shots don’t work

False. They are effective against the strains of flu contained in the vaccine that has been specifically created to match the main strains of flu expected for the current season. Even if they don’t keep you from getting the flu, they have been shown to curtail the severity of the illness, reducing the duration from around seven or eight days to four or five days, for example, as well as diminishing the necessity for hospitalization.

Myth #4: Last year’s shot is still good

False. A person’s immunity from a vaccination declines over time, which is why the CDC recommends waiting until this time of year to receive a shot. Inoculations given in late summer may be ineffective if the flu season extends into May, as occurred last year.

Myth #5: Getting a flu vaccine weakens your immune system

False. In fact, the opposite is true. Vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, and has also been shown to be associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes and heart disease.

Myth #6: If you’ve already had the flu, you don’t need a shot

False. There are several types of flu virus circulating, and you can still catch a type you haven’t already had. In addition, your immune system may be stressed from fighting off the first attack, so you may be more susceptible to other viruses.

Myth #7: Getting a second shot will boost your immunity

False. The first shot will stimulate your immune system to fight off the virus. A second shot, which will contain the same strains as the first shot, will do nothing to boost your immunity further. The sole exception to this rule pertains to children between six months and eight years of age, who may need a second dose four weeks after the first one to ensure full protection.

The CDC reports that different vaccines are licensed for different age groups, and some vaccines are not recommended for some groups of people.

If you have any concerns about whether and what type of flu shot to receive, we’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.

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