It seems most people won’t get a flu shot this year – many turning to what can only be called the Top Ten Flu Myths. Here goes:
1. The flu shot can give me the flu. No way, no how. Injectable flu vaccine is 100% dead, broken-up virus – it is not infectious.
2. I won’t get the flu. That is Russian roulette. How often this winter will you be in the same room/elevator/auto with someone who is coughing, sneezing and doing their best to infect everyone? You will find yourself trapped like a rat.
3. I’m healthy, so getting the flu is no big deal. Influenza hits even the strong and healthy like a Mack Truck. Think 104 fevers and every muscle in your body screaming at you. Not much a doctor can do after you have the flu.
4. The Flu vaccine is dangerous. This is the old argument regarding the preservative Thimerosal. There is zero scientific evidence that this preservative is harmful. Given the hundreds of millions of flu shots given, even a tiny risk would be found. If you still fear this preservative, the flu vaccine is available in preservative free form (no Thimerosal). For the record, my children, wife and I had the regular flu vaccine (with Thimerosal).
5. Flu shots are difficult to find and useless after November. The flu season changes every year. Things like air travel spread viruses quickly to far flung places. It takes 9 days to develop immunity after being vaccinated. You will still get immunity whenever you vaccinate. In terms of finding the vaccine, the vaccine is plentiful even late in the season. If you decide a flu shot is a good idea, why risk getting the disease for months before getting a shot?
6. I get sick even if I get the flu shot. Influenza takes a couple of days to develop after you are infected. So you can also get exposed a couple of days after the vaccine, but before you are immune. Influenza vaccine doesn’t prevent colds. So any of those situations can lead people to think the vaccine didn’t work.
7. I don’t have the money. A Canadian study found an average savings of $43 in healthcare expense for every vaccinated person. Doctor visits and work absence were all significantly reduced in the vaccinated population.
8. Only old people die of flu. In normal years, 90% of flu deaths are 65 years and over. H1N1 had the opposite with almost all the deaths in the young. It is your contribution to the public good to not be passing around flu this winter. We call that herd immunity. The sum is greater than the parts.
9. I am still immune from last year’s shot. The flu vaccine is redesigned every year based on the early emerging virus types in Southeast Asia (they have their winter during our summer). When we measure immunity, flu vaccine gives very strong immunity for six months or longer. You don’t still have high antibody levels the next flu season.
10. Flu shots hurt. In my clinic, we use #30 needles that are the thickness of a human hair. The vaccine is not irritating to the muscle. There is very little pain with a carefully given flu shot.
We have plenty of vaccine, what are you waiting for?
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing Clinical Occupational Medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.