Flu Vaccine: The Top 5 Myths Busted

Masked physician administering flu vaccine to adult male patient.

Every flu season, people decide to skip the flu shot, but it’s an important piece of your preventive health care. Here we clear up some of the most common flu falsehoods.  

Myth #1: The flu is like the common cold – it’s not a big deal. 

Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness that is easily spread and can result in hospitalization or death.

Some people, such as older adults, young children and people with certain health conditions (like pregnancy, asthma and cancer), are at high risk for serious flu complications. The flu virus causes great stress on the body, increasing the risk for additional complications, including pneumonia and heart attacks.

Myth #2: The flu shot can give me the flu.

It is impossible for the flu shot to give you flu because it does not contain the live virus. The influenza viruses contained in a flu shot are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection.

Some people have mild reactions to flu vaccine, such as soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given. Other reactions are usually mild and can include a low-grade fever and aches. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1 to 2 days.

Myth #3: The flu shot doesn’t work. 

The flu shot does not guarantee you won’t get influenza, but it significantly reduces your risk. Recent studies show the flu shot reduces the risk of flu illness by about 50 to 60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are like the vaccine viruses.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “all available flu vaccines in the United States this flu season are quadrivalent (four-component) flu vaccines that are designed to protect against the four flu viruses that research indicates are most likely to spread and cause illness among people during the upcoming flu season.”

Once you get the vaccine, it takes two weeks for antibodies to develop and provide protection. That’s why it’s better to get vaccinated early in the fall, before flu season really gets under way.

Myth #4: The presence of flu will be low like last year.

COVID-19 prevention efforts (physical distancing, handwashing, mask-wearing and staying home when sick) drastically reduced the presence of flu in our communities last winter. However, many of those prevention efforts have relaxed in 2021 which, according to analysis by the CDC, may result in an increase in flu activity during the upcoming 2021–2022 flu season. The CDC uses the increased presence of other respiratory viruses in 2021 as a potential indicator of increase flu presence this year. “Common respiratory viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and human coronaviruses (not SARS-CoV-2) did not spread as much as usual during the 2020-2021 flu season as in past seasons. However, data from the National Respiratory and Enteric Surveillance System (NREVSS) showed an increase in these viruses’ activity during the summer, outside of their usual seasonal increases.”

Myth #5: I can’t get my flu shot at the same time as the COVID-19 vaccine.

Incorrect. The CDC has announced that the flu and COVID-19 vaccines can now be given at the same time. According to the CDC, it is important to maintain routine vaccinations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent illnesses that lead to unnecessary medical visits and hospitalizations, which further strain the healthcare system.

A healthier tomorrow includes a flu shot today. Visit our flu resource page to learn where you can get vaccinated.

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