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The Influenza Vaccine: Debunking the Myth

It’s that time of year: cold and influenza (the “flu”) season! As our offices prepare for the fall/winter influx of sick patients, we also stock up on our supply of flu vaccine. While we hope you take us up on our offer to help your body fight off the flu this season, we realize that many patients will refuse the vaccine. Try as we might, we sometimes find it very difficult to correct some of the common misconceptions about the flu and flu vaccine. Below, I discuss some of the typical concerns I hear from my patients:

  1. “The flu vaccine will make me sick.” This is the number one reason I hear from patients refusing vaccination. The flu vaccine can take up to two weeks to be effective. We also give the flu vaccine during the fall and winter season, when cold viruses are predominant. Taking these two facts into account, if you get sick following the flu vaccine, it’s likely either you were exposed to the flu before the vaccine had the time to take full effect, or it was a different virus that attacked you (see below for more on this.). Also, consider the science behind the flu vaccine: the virus particle that is injected is killed prior to you getting the shot. This means that it cannot cause the flu. The exception to this is the intranasal form of flu vaccine, which contains a live, weakened virus particle that is rapidly killed in the warmer regions of your body. Therefore, it is possible to get mild nasal symptoms at the site of inhalation.
  2. “We’ve had the flu, and it wasn’t so bad.” Then it likely wasn’t the flu! The flu is much different from a cold. While is does cause respiratory symptoms such as stuffy/runny nose and coughing, those symptoms are much more severe with the flu and are accompanied by headaches, body aches, severe tiredness, and high fevers. The complications stemming from getting influenza can also be quite severe and include difficulty breathing, dehydration, and pneumonia, all which may require hospitalization.
  3. “It’s not safe.” It is very safe for patients without certain medical conditions. Talk with your health care provider prior to receiving the vaccine to make sure that it is safe for you to receive it.
  4. “I hate shots! I’d rather get the flu than get a shot.” Again, then you probably don’t know how awful the flu can be! Consider the intranasal influenza vaccine, if you qualify for it. There are no needles involved, and it is quite effective.

Remember, too, that the flu vaccine does not provide 100% coverage, so it is still possible to get the flu. But it does give your body a fighting chance and significantly reduces the risk of becoming very ill. It also prevents you from spreading the flu to young babies (<6 months old) and people with weakened immune systems who cannot get the vaccine, which is very important, as these people are more likely to get seriously ill from the flu.

All Hoag Medical Group locations offer the flu shot, find a Hoag Medical Group location near you.

Resources:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
  • http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm
  • http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/general.htm
  • http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/Vaccines/QuestionsaboutVaccines/UCM070430

Meet the Author

Jennifer Birkhauser, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Specialty: Pediatrics
Areas of Interest: General Child & Adolescent Care

Dr. Birkhauser is a pediatrician for Hoag Medical Group who enjoys caring for her young patients and serving as a resource to the parents of her patients. She practices at the Huntington Beach location and welcomes children of all ages. View Bio [+]