Each year, millions of people skip the flu shot because they think they don’t need it. Despite CDC recommendations that everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine, more than half of all young adults miss their shot every year.
A 2020 survey found that while people may forgo the flu vaccine because of time constraints or forgetfulness, many people avoid the shot due to misconceptions or inaccurate information. False information about flu vaccines is rampant, so here are some facts to counter the fiction.
Fact: The flu is a serious disease
Many people mistakenly think of the flu as akin to a bad cold. In reality, the flu is a serious, even deadly, disease that can land you in the hospital and cause severe health complications.
Not only does the flu result in an average of 200,000 people hospitalized and 36,000 dead in the U.S. each year, but flu infections are also one of the most common causes of pneumonia and myocarditis, a condition causing inflammation of the heart muscles. And in the weeks after having the flu, you are six times more likely to have a heart attack. On top of that, having the flu with another viral infection, like COVID-19 or RSV, increases your risk of complications and death.
Fact: You can’t get the flu from the vaccine
Contrary to this myth, it’s impossible to get the flu from the vaccine because the flu shot doesn’t contain the live influenza virus, and the nasal spray vaccine contains a weakened form of the influenza virus that can’t make you sick. You may experience mild side effects like a headache or low fever after being vaccinated, which can be mistaken for flu symptoms. But real flu symptoms are much more severe and long-lasting.
Fact: You need the flu shot if you’ve never had the flu
Some people believe that if they haven’t had the flu in the past, it means their immune systems are better able to fight off the infection. Unfortunately, your immune system’s response to previous flu seasons does not predict how you’ll fare this flu season.
Influenza viruses mutate quickly. The dominant strain changes every year, and since there isn’t a “universal” flu vaccine (yet), the vaccine needs to change, too.
Fact: Flu shots work
It’s a common misconception that catching the flu after getting vaccinated means the vaccine doesn’t work. Actually, the flu vaccine trains your immune system to fight the influenza virus, reducing your risk of catching the flu by up to 60 percent. Because the vaccine primes your immune system to fight the flu, the length and severity of your illness will be dramatically reduced, along with your risk of complications.
Fact: The flu shot is properly tested
One pervasive myth about the annual flu shot (and other updated vaccines) is that it isn’t tested in clinical trials. Because different influenza strains circulate each season, the vaccine must be adapted each year.
The basic formula and ingredients stay the same—only the target changes, which doesn’t affect the vaccine’s safety. After getting a flu vaccine, you may experience minor side effects like a headache or sore arm, but serious side effects are extremely rare.
The 2022-2023 flu season was the worst in over a decade, and experts predict this year may also be severe. Even if you’re perfectly healthy, you can’t know in advance how your body will respond to a flu infection. Don’t risk it this year. Protect yourself and those around you by getting a flu vaccine. You can find the nearest flu vaccine location at Vaccines.gov.