Monday, February 5, 2018

Debunking the Flu Vaccine Misconceptions

Author: Dr. Frank Welch, Medical Director, Immunization Program

Being vaccinated against the flu, particularly in active seasons like this one, is the best way to protect yourself and those around you against getting sick. However, the talk of vaccines also brings all the misconceptions about vaccines back to the surface.

The flu vaccine remains the safest and most effective way to protect yourself and those around you from the flu. In the most severe seasons, the flu causes approximately 700 deaths and nearly 8,000 hospitalizations each year in Louisiana. The 2017/18 flu season is on pace to meet and possibly exceed those statistics.

The Louisiana Department of Health has actively been promoting the flu shot for the past several weeks. Although the response for this responsible public health/flu prevention tactic has been overwhelmingly positive, some people still talk nonsense and spread misinformation. Here are the answers to a few of the many myths and misconceptions about the flu  vaccines that have appeared on our social media pages.

If I take the flu shot, I will get the flu.

Many people fear that they will get the flu if they are given the flu vaccine, but it is absolutely impossible for the flu shot to give you the flu. Flu vaccines given with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu vaccine viruses at all (which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine). The most common side effects from the influenza shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur.

The shot isn’t effective in preventing the virus.

The flu shot is not perfect, but it does protect against, and minimize many complications of the flu.
There are many different flu viruses and they are constantly changing. Because of this, the composition of the U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses that research suggests will be most common. For 2017-18, three-component vaccines are recommended to contain protections against:
  • ·        H1N1
  • ·        H3N2
  • ·        B/Victoria lineage virus

There are also four-component vaccines that protect against a second lineage of B viruses.

I got the flu shot and I still got the flu.

It’s possible to get sick with the flu even if you have been vaccinated. This is possible for a few reasons.

·        You may have been exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period (two weeks after vaccination antibodies that provide protection develop in the body) that it takes to gain protection after getting vaccinated, resulting in you becoming ill with the flu before the vaccine begins to protect you.

·        You may have been exposed to a flu virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different flu viruses that circulate every year. The flu vaccine is made to protect against the three or four flu viruses that research suggests will be most common.

·        Protection provided by flu vaccination can vary widely, based in part on health and age factors of the person getting vaccinated. In general, the flu vaccine works best among healthy younger adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination. Flu vaccination is not a perfect tool, but it is the best way to protect against flu infection.

·        You may be sick with a virus or bacteria that is not the flu. These other germs circulate more in the winter along with the flu virus and are sometimes confused with the flu.

The vaccine is only 10 percent effective.

The 10 percent vaccine effectiveness figure was an interim estimate of the vaccine’s benefit against one flu virus (H3N2) that circulated in Australia during its most recent flu season. In the United States last season, overall vaccine effectiveness against all circulating flu viruses was 39 percent. Estimates of the flu vaccine’s effectiveness against circulating flu viruses in the United States this season will be available later in the season but are expected to be significantly higher than 10 percent, and more likely in the 35-60% effectiveness range.

The flu shot is not safe for pregnant women or newborns.

With rare exception, an annual flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older, including pregnant women and people with medical conditions. Vaccine providers should be aware of the approved age indications of the vaccine they are using and of any precautions. People getting vaccinated should also be screened for allergies as those with severe allergic reactions should not be vaccinated.

For a complete list of those who should speak with their doctor before getting vaccinated, refer to this list.

The mercury in vaccines causes autism.

There is no evidence that vaccines cause autism. Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, is used in trace amounts in vials that contain more than one dose of a vaccine to prevent germs, bacteria and/or fungi from contaminating the vaccine. Multi-dose flu vaccines contain thimerosal. However, scientific research does not show a connection between thimerosal and autism, and it has shown to be safe when used in vaccines.

Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines do not and have never contained thimerosal. Varicella, inactivated polio, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines have also never contained thimerosal.
Flu vaccines are available in both thimerosal-containing and thimerosal-free versions.

For a complete list of vaccines and their thimerosal content, click here.


The Louisiana Department of Health recommends that everyone who has not received a flu vaccination to do so as it is the best way for you to protect yourself, your family, and the people around you. For more information on the flu, visit www.ldh.la.gov/fighttheflu.

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