Incoming December brings seasons of generosity, holiday decorations and unfortunately, the onset of winter-seasonal sicknesses. It also brings availability of the flu vaccine and flu shot clinics. Thinking of delaying or skipping your flu shot this year? Here are 10 of the most common myths you might be hearing—and the facts that explain why a vaccine is the best way to protect yourself so you can stay healthy this flu season.
1. Myth: There’s nothing you can do to prevent the flu.
Fact: Negative. There are actually quite a few things you can do—starting with getting your annual flu shot as soon as the vaccine becomes available. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says this is the single most important thing you can do to fight the flu. After your shot, here are the CDC’s additional recommended steps to take during flu season for prevention:
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you get sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone and limit contact with others to stop the spread of illness.
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze with a tissue—then throw it away and wash your hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid spreading germs by not touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces and objects at home, work and school.
It’s also always a good idea to keep your immune system strong by practicing healthy habits all year long such as drinking plenty of water, eating vitamin-rich foods, and getting enough sleep each night.
2. Myth: The flu shot gives you the flu — everyone gets sick from it.
Fact: Although it is talked about, this one is not true. As the CDC explains, flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. “Flu shots are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with (a) flu viruses that have been “inactivated” (killed) and that therefore are not infectious, or (b) using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection.” So, while you might have a mild reaction ranging from soreness where your shot was given to headache or muscle aches, it usually only lasts 1-2 days compared to real flu symptoms which can last several days and even land you in the hospital.
3. Myth: It’s better to get the flu than get sick from a flu vaccine.
Fact: No way. As mentioned above, the flu can be a serious disease—especially for young kids, older adults and anyone with chronic health conditions like asthma, heart disease or diabetes. Once you have the flu virus, you’re at risk for serious complications including hospitalization or even death. Not to mention, you can spread it to others who are more vulnerable than you. That’s why getting a flu shot is always a better choice than being at risk for the full-blown flu virus. Even if you experience a more minor strain of the flu virus after being vaccinated, your symptoms will be less serious and will not last as long as they would if you did not get a flu shot.
4. Myth: Flu season only hits in the winter.
Fact: Untrue. There’s no specific start day when flu season begins or ends. It varies each year depending on location around the world. In Michigan, flu season officially kicks off whenever levels of flu infections begin to rise above normal levels. It usually happens between fall and spring months, with peaks in—you guessed it—the winter months of January and February. That’s why it’s best to get your flu shot in preparation for levels rising.
5. Myth: It’s better to wait to get the flu vaccine until peak winter months.
Fact: Although plausible, this remains false. Since flu seasons vary, kicking off in the fall, it’s best to get vaccinated as soon as it’s available so you can be fully protected through all seasons. The CDC recommends getting your flu shot by the end of October for optimal protection—since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu virus infection. The flu shot does not stop “working” as good the longer you have it.
6. Myth: It’s too late to get the flu shot if you wait until winter.
Fact: Also false – building on the point above, if life happens and you do end up not being able to get a flu shot sooner, know it is better to get it late than never. Vaccination can still help you as long as flu viruses are going around. This means if you haven’t gotten your flu shot by Thanksgiving, it can still help to get it in December or even later. With the season being so long and unpredictable, flu viruses can still be spreading around as late as May.
7. Myth: Getting two flu shots will help make sure you’re double-protected.
Fact: Unfortunately, the answer is no. According to the CDC, studies have not shown a benefit from getting more than one flu shot during the same season. The only exception is some children ages 6 months through 8 years—those getting vaccinated for the first time. Your child’s doctor or health care provider can tell you if this is needed and help you schedule the two doses at least four weeks apart.
8. Myth: The “stomach flu” is the same as the flu.
Fact: While neither is a fun time, they are not the same. The terms are often confused, but they are different diseases. Stomach flu is used to describe nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Such symptoms can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria or even parasites. While vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, or feeling “sick to your stomach” can sometimes be related to the flu—mostly in children—they’re rarely the main symptoms of true influenza. The flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease.
9. Myth: You can get the flu shot when you’re feeling sick.
Fact: This is not a good idea without talking to your doctor or health care provider first. In fact, the professional administering your flu shot should ask these two common questions:
whoever is giving you your flu shot will ask you these two common questions: 1. Do you have moderate-to-severe illness and/or fever? It will be recommended that you wait until you are feeling better. 2. Do you have a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome— a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS? If yes, it will be recommended that you work with your doctor who will help you decide whether it is in your best interest to receive the flu vaccine.
10. Myth: Pregnant women or anyone with pre-existing conditions can’t get the flu shot.
Fact: This is not true. With rare exceptions, the CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older, including pregnant women and people with medical conditions. Since children younger than 6 months old are too young to get the flu shot, the best way to protect these little ones is for moms to get a flu shot during pregnancy (which has been shown to protect babies several months after birth) and for everyone around them to get vaccinated too.
Still unsure if you should get a flu shot this season?
It’s best to ask your doctor or another certified health provider this question. And before you pay full price for your flu shot at a clinic or retail location, be sure to check with your health insurance provider. Most plans, like Priority Health, offer flu shots as a preventive benefit at little to no cost when you go to an in-network location. Several clinics and health systems are offering drive-thru or curbside flu shot options. Check the state’s flu vaccine directory here or ask your primary care provider.
Remember that a vaccination helps you fight getting more severe flu symptoms, but even after a flu shot you can still get some flu symptoms. Hopefully it doesn’t happen, but here are some tips to help just in case. And if you’re wondering what the differences are between COVID-19 and the flu, check out this helpful comparison.