As we enter the fall months, the flu season is upon us.
While the 2020-2021 flu season was unusually quiet—primarily due to increased masking, remote learning, and remote work—we expect the 2021-2022 flu season to be similar to past flu seasons.
During the 2019-2020 flu season, there were an estimated 24,000-62,000 flu deaths in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Below are seven myths about the flu vaccine with the facts to help you understand why it is so important.
Fact: The flu shot cannot cause the flu. Flu shots either contain inactivated (“killed”) flu virus or parts of the virus.
A small percentage of people do have a mild reaction to the flu shot such as headache and muscle aches (or your arm may be sore around the shot itself). This is your body’s reaction to the flu shot, and it is not an actual infection.
Fact: Historically, the effectiveness of the flu shot last year is between 40-60%. That means it decreases the percentage of people seeking care for flu-like illness by 40-60%. That’s more effective than medications we use to treat many common illnesses.
You can still get the flu even if you are vaccinated. However, if you received the vaccine, we know that your flu infection and symptoms are more likely to be less severe.
Fact: The flu is a deadly illness. Don’t confuse this with the “common cold,” which is a completely different virus. Historically, the flu causes approximately 50,000 deaths per year in the U.S. It also accounts for more than 16 million doctor, emergency department, and hospital visits per year, which can put a strain onto our health care system.
Fact: This is just the luck of the draw. You are probably not immune to the flu without a vaccine. When you get the flu shot, you are not just protecting yourself. You are also protecting others around you by preventing the spread of the flu, including our patients, your family, and your friends. You may have heard the phrase “herd immunity,” which means that if everyone is immune, the flu virus cannot spread (“the herd is safe”).
Flu vaccinations are important as we continue to deal with the pandemic of COVID-19. The flu vaccine can help avoid adding additional strain onto the medical system.
Fact: Unfortunately, the immunity from the flu vaccine can wear off. In addition, the flu viruses circulating change from year to year, so you need to receive an annual flu shot.
Fact: While the peak of flu infections is between December and February, and the flu circulates in our area between October and April. The CDC recommends everyone to be vaccinated against the flu by October, since it can take a few weeks for the immune system to build up resistance. If you wait to get the flu shot, you will be less likely to fight off the flu.
Fact: True medical allergies to the flu shot are rare. The CDC advises that a small group of people should not get the flu vaccine. You should not get a flu shot if you have a severe, life-threatening allergy to any ingredient in the flu vaccine (other than egg proteins), such as gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients.
You should talk to your doctor before getting a flu shot if you:
The CDC offers additional guidance about who should and should not receive the flu shot.
You can get your flu shot at your local pharmacy, at a nearby community health center, or at a Mass General Brigham location. You can find answers to additional questions about the flu vaccine on the CDC’s website.