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MythBusters: Flu Vaccine Edition

You’ve undoubtedly heard the myths again and again…and again.

A human tooth will dissolve overnight in a glass of Coca Cola. Walt Disney is cryogenically frozen. Eighty percent of dust is made up of dead skin cells.

And one of our favorites: The flu vaccine will give you the flu.

Myths about the flu are everywhere. According to many experts, misconceptions and rumors about the flu are as hard to contain and as hard to fight as the virus itself.

“There are urban myths and rural myths about the flu,” says William Schaffner, MD, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. “Flu myths are everywhere.”

As we mentioned above, perhaps the most prevalent myth we hear when out in the community:

The flu vaccine gave me the flu!

The fact is, it is scientifically impossible to get the flu from a vaccine. Why? For one, injected flu vaccines only contain dead virus, and a dead virus is, well, dead: it can’t infect you. The following, from Dr. Michael Chang, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, TX:

"A lot of times people will say they or their children got the flu from the vaccine, and that is just not possible," notes Chang. "That said, some people do feel bad after: muscle aches, low grade fever, achy arm [where they had the injection]. I always tell patients that this is good in the sense that it means your immune system is having a response, which is what we want."

So why does this myth prevail? There are a few reasons:

Likely, people are mistaking general “fluish” symptoms or the common cold for the actual flu.
Luckily, there’s a good chance this only happens to people who haven’t actually ever had influenza, because once you’ve had it — well, there’s just no mistaking it! (And influenza is NOT the stomach "flu") According to the CDC, flu vaccine side effects are rare but can be “mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of a bad case of the flu.” You may have a slightly sore arm for a few days, or a low grade fever –much better than a cough, aching body, and inability to move off the couch, go to work, school, or anywhere, really for days.

(At least in our opinion).

Other reasons for this myth?
It’s always possible you’ve contracted influenza before getting your vaccine or you became infected shortly after it, considering it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective. People who get sick after a flu shot, well, they were going to get sick anyway unfortunately.

You may have been exposed to an influenza virus different from those included in the vaccine. The flu vaccine protects against the three to four influenza viruses research indicates will cause the most disease during the upcoming season, but there can be other flu viruses circulating. Or you may have been exposed to a non-flu virus before or after you got vaccinated. The flu vaccine can only prevent illnesses caused by flu viruses. It cannot protect against non-flu viruses that may cause flu-like illness, and there are hundreds of these viruses circulating during cold and flu season. 

We also hear a lot of other myths and excuses when we're out in the community:

Our response to all of the above: We encourage everyone 6 months and older to get the flu vaccine at clinics, pharmacies, or physician offices. You can find a location near you here.

So please be a voice of reason. Do you know people who believe you can get the flu from the flu vaccine, or one of the other myths we mentioned? If so, please share this post with them.


Immunize Nevada

Immunize Nevada, an award winning 501c3 non profit, is widely recognized as Nevada’s trusted resource for immunizations and community health for all ages by fostering education and statewide collaboration.