Should I Get a Flu Shot Already? Everything You Need to Know About the Vaccine
No, the flu shot doesn't make you sick
The summer sun may still be shining, but believe it or not, flu season is just around the corner.
With coughs and sniffles abound, many are eager to get the flu vaccine — while others are avoiding the shot like, well, the plague.
While the nasal flu vaccine has been largely unavailable in recent years, medical experts are urging the public to get the vaccine in shot form as the colder months set in.
Though flu season doesn’t typically get into full swing until December, cases can sometimes be seen in October or November, making it important to get a flu shot before then.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older get a flu shot by the end of October.
That suggestion was echoed by Dr. Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital, who explained to USA Today that patients typically take two weeks to be fully protected after receiving the shot. She advised parents to make sure their children had been vaccinated by Halloween.
Early to mid-November was also recommended as a good time to get the shot by Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
He told The New York Times patients should be wary of getting the shots too early, like in August or September, since immunity induced by the vaccine wanes by about 20 percent per month.
The flu shot contains an inactive dose of the influenza virus, which prompts the immune system to create antibodies to fight off the potentially deadly viral infection.
However, while many are lining up to get the influenza vaccine, others remain skeptical of the shot’s effects.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that it is “important to convey the full burden of seasonal flu to the public.”
“Seasonal flu is a serious disease that causes illness, hospitalizations, and deaths every year in the United States,” according to the site.
However some still avoid getting the flu shot due to myths about the flu vaccine:
Myth: The Vaccine Causes the Flu
Dr. Denise Pate, Internal Medicine Doctor at Medical Offices of Manhattan, tells PEOPLE she’s encountered several patients who were wary of the shot due to long-circulated rumors that it causes illness.
“They think it’s gonna give them the flu, it’s a very common thing,” she says. “Because the virus is inactive, it absolutely cannot transmit the infection.”
Pate also noted that while the shot contains inactive influenza, the nasal vaccine held the live virus: “They found that that has not been effective.”
“There are people who should not be exposed to the live virus … the elderly, the very young, pregnant women are not allowed to get the live virus.”
Fact: Patients May Experience Flu-Like Symptoms Shortly After Getting the Vaccine
Pate says that, for up to a day after getting the shot, some may experience body aches, soreness around the injection site and “may feel a bit feverish.”
“I think it’s important to recognize the side effects of getting the shot versus what the actual flu is,” she says. “It is common that when you do get the flu shot, you’re taking in the inactive virus so you’re body is getting exposed to something.
“The response that you have is basically you may be slightly under the weather.”
Myth: The Flu Shot Has Severe Health Consequences
Despite rumors that injecting the inactive virus into the blood stream could alter people’s health, Dr. Pate says the brief side effects of the vaccine are really the only risk.
“It’s extremely rare that anyone would develop a more serious reaction. The evidence shows us that there are so many people every year who actually die from the flu,” she says.
“The side effects are limited to feeling a little but under the weather … the side effects really are the only risk.”
Fact: The Flu Shot is ‘Never 100 Percent Foolproof’
Dr. Pate says that, much like any other vaccine, there is not a 100 percent guarantee that a person will not get the flu.
“But if you do get the flu shot, the possibility of getting the flu is severely reduced and if you do come across the virus and if you do develop symptoms, it would be far less severe than if you did not get the shot,” she tells PEOPLE.
“There is still a possibility that people will get the shot and will still come down with the flu, but those cases are much more mild.”
Dr. Pate adds that the vaccine takes up to two weeks to take full effect — “So there’s a possibility that if someone got it today and next week they got exposed with the flu, they could come down with the flu because the vaccine isn’t protecting them yet.”
Myth: Pregnant Women Should Not Get the Flu Shot
Experts say that children under 6 months old shouldn’t get the vaccine, but Dr. Pate tells PEOPLE that it is often recommended that pregnant women get the shot for their own health — and that of their unborn child.
“When the mom gets [the shot] the antibodies that she makes from that will get passed on to the baby in utero,” Dr. Pate says. “So, when the baby’s born, the baby is already somewhat protected against the flu for at least a couple of months after they’ve been exposed to the antibodies.”
She adds that the vaccine is “really important to pregnant women,” and notes that the shot is helpful for the baby because infants’ weak immune systems make them more susceptible to infection.
Fact: Patients 65 or Older Receive a Special Type of Vaccine
Though it is recommended that patients between 6 months and 65 years old get the shot, a specific form of the vaccine is administered to the elderly, Dr. Pate tells PEOPLE.
“As someone gets older their immune system changes,” she says. “Specifically patients older than 65, there is a special flu shot for them called the high-dose flu shot”
She adds: “Basically it’s just a more concentrated version of the regular flu shot. The thought process is that it may last a little bit longer in the system, so [the elderly are] covered a little bit longer than the younger person.”
Myth: The Shot Causes Severe Reactions for Those with Egg Allergies
Dr. Pate says this speculation likely stems from the fact that the vaccine is incubated in an egg and contains a small amount of egg proteins. However, she says those with egg allergies need not be concerned.
“There’s a very small amount of egg proteins in these shots and I think the risks of getting it are far less harmful than the benefits,” she tells PEOPLE. “If anything happens, it’s usually a skin reaction like hives.”
Fact: Patients with Egg Allergies Should Be Monitored After Getting the Vaccine
“They should be potentially observed for a period of time in a hospital setting, for maybe 30 minutes after getting the vaccine,” she says.
However, when updating its guidelines on the condition and the vaccine last year, the CDC scrapped the 30-minute-monitoring recommendation.
“Studies that have examined the use of both the nasal spray vaccine and flu shots in egg-allergic and non-egg-allergic patients indicate that severe allergic reactions in people with egg allergies are unlikely,” officials stated on the CDC website.
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Myth: The Flu Vaccine Causes Autism in Children
Perhaps the most controversial of the myths surrounding the flu shot are claims that the vaccine causes autism in children.
However, there is no scientific evidence that the shots and the disorder are connected, the New York Times reports.
“I really don’t think that [the vaccine] is linked to autism,” Dr. Pate says. “This topic is really, really controversial … but I really don’t think there is any correlation.”
Skeptics have suspected the link because a mercury-containing, organized compound has been used as a preservative in some vaccines.
Dr. Pate says that though there has been an increase in autism in recent years, that’s likely because the condition is simply being recognized more often.
“It’s something we’re diagnosing more because we’re more aware of it,” she says. “Years ago, people with autism would just be called ‘slow’ or ‘delayed.’ ”
She adds: “People have been getting flu shots for many years and I don’t think there’s a correlation.”