Think flu shots don’t work? Let us dispel the myths
As sure as the leaves begin to fall and the air turns chilly, mythology around influenza immunization makes its annual return. You may have heard the rationales against vaccination: “Flu shots don’t work.” “I never get the flu, so I don’t need the shot.” Or, “I did get the shot and I still got the flu.”
As a health care organization, it’s our job to dispel these myths for our patients, the community and even within our own workforce.
Here are six common reasons people decline the flu shot — and why they shouldn’t:
1. “The vaccine will give me the flu.”
The flu shot contains only killed virus and cannot cause influenza. It can, however, cause mild symptoms such as fever, nausea, headaches and muscle aches because the immune system responds to the killed virus the same way it would to the live virus. Mild symptoms mean the vaccine is working to prime your immune system to fight the flu. Those who have become ill shortly after receiving the vaccine may have been infected with the flu before the vaccine could create immunity, which takes about two weeks. This is why we encourage people to get immunized before the flu season officially begins.
2. “I never get the flu, so I don’t need a shot.”
Young, healthy people who contract influenza may not become as ill as those with chronic medical issues, but they can still infect others for whom infection may be devastating. As health care professionals our occupation puts us at increased risk of contracting and transmitting influenza (we are a high-risk group), and we have a responsibility to make every effort to protect our patients.
3. “I got a flu shot but still got the flu.”
No vaccine is 100% effective. The efficacy of the flu shot depends on how well the strains contained in the vaccine match the circulating strains that year as well as the underlying health status of the person being vaccinated. Experts use all available evidence to predict which strains will be common and cause the most illness in the coming season, but you may still get sick if you contract a strain that wasn’t in the vaccine. Some subtypes such as H3N2 tend to cause more severe disease even when there is a good match between the vaccine and circulating strains.
Although we don’t yet have a perfect vaccine, in general, influenza vaccination can lessen your risk of developing influenza by up to 40 to 60%, making it the single most effective way to prevent this infection. While getting the flu shot doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu this year, it will decrease the likelihood of becoming ill or developing a severe case of the flu.
4. “My doctor doesn’t believe in flu shots.”
All major health organizations, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, recommend annual influenza vaccination for everyone who works in health care. As health care professionals we need to follow evidence-based recommendations and serve as role models for our patients and the community.
5. “I got a flu shot last year, so I don’t need one again.”
Unfortunately, immunity to seasonal influenza does not carry forward from year to year, in part because the influenza virus changes over time (genetic drift). Each year a new vaccine is designed for the different subtypes or strains of influenza virus that are predicted to be most prevalent in the upcoming flu season.
6. “Vaccinations are unsafe.”
Influenza vaccination is among the safest of medical interventions. Extensive research supports the safety of flu vaccines and hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received seasonal flu shots for more than 50 years. Like any medical treatment, vaccines can cause side effects. As mentioned earlier, these are generally mild and resolve on their own within a few days.
Some studies have found a small possible association between the vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome — fewer than one to two cases among 1 million people vaccinated — but other studies have found no association with this condition. Guillain-Barré can also occur after natural influenza infection, and although rare, it is more commonly seen after illness with influenza than after influenza vaccination. Finally, most people with allergies can safely receive the flu shot. For those with severe egg allergies, there are vaccines that do not contain any egg products.
Our patients — particularly the frail and vulnerable — rely on us to keep them safe while they’re in our care. Let’s do everything we can this season to uphold that trust by getting immunized or wearing a mask when flu season is declared.
- Complete a flu education module in ALEC (HealthStream) by Oct. 31.
- Get vaccinated or submit an attestation form or declination form to Asante Employee Health or through MyChart by Nov. 30.
- The same deadline applies for those who got a flu shot elsewhere and need to attest to their vaccination status.
- Wear a mask in all Asante facilities if unvaccinated.
If you have a question, please contact the author or relevant department directly.