Do I Need a Flu Shot This Year? Understand the Facts to Make an
By Patricia Lafaro, RN, director of Infection Prevention at Somerset Medical Center
Each year, as we walk around town and go about our daily routines and errands, we inevitably see the same signs: “Get Your Flu Shot!” Yet most of us will walk
right by these signs, without even considering getting the vaccination. Estimates of how many people die each year from Influenza vary greatly, but there is no doubt that the Flu can be fatal, especially for young children and people over the age of 65. Despite the thousands of deaths related to flu-like symptoms, and the accessibility of vaccines, each year most Americans head into flu season without receiving their flu shots, leaving them susceptible to the highly prevalent and contagious disease.
The growing decision to abstain from getting the flu shot is directly related to the wealth of misinformation circulating about the vaccination. The following myths leave people confused about the best course of action to take to protect themselves. Don’t let these popular myths prevent you from taking the appropriate precautions this flu season.
- Myth #1: “Flu vaccinations end up giving you the flu.”— False. The most common vaccination method is the flu shot, which contains an “inactivated” influenza virus. The shot introduces a killed flu virus into your body, so that your immune system can begin to build antibodies to that particular strain, without your body actually contracting the virus. The flu shot is approved for all people older than 6 months. If you feel nervous about getting the shot, there is also a nasal-spray vaccine you can consider. This form contains live, weakened flu viruses that cannot actually cause the flu. This form is approved for healthy, non-pregnant individuals between the ages of 2 and 49. While people tend to believe that these killed or weakened strains can actually cause the flu, they don’t.
- Myth #2: “People who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should not get vaccinated.” -- False. Pregnant women can and should get vaccinated for the flu, as their bodies are more susceptible to serious infections, including pneumonia, while they are pregnant. The only form of vaccination not recommended for pregnant women is the nasal-spray flu vaccine. The flu shot, however, is indeed recommended, and there is no evidence suggesting it poses any harm to the baby.
- Myth #3: “I got a flu shot last year, so I’m still protected.” – False. Every year, seasonal flu shots are manufactured with three different virus strains, which research shows are the most likely to spread throughout the population that year. The very nature of a virus is to evolve in cycles to ensure that they stay one step ahead of their host body’s immune system. This means that in order to be protected, a person must get a seasonal flu shot every year to stay protected from the new strains that may develop.
- Myth #4: “I already had the flu this year; I won’t get it again.” – False. Since there are a number of different strains of Influenza, which vary yearly, it’s important that you get vaccinated even if you’ve already been sick this year, as you are still vulnerable to other forms of the virus. People are also quick to identify flu-like symptoms as the flu, when they might have truly stemmed from another virus. It’s best to protect yourself rather than take the risk.
As we head into peak flu season, I urge people to consider getting vaccinated. Somerset Medical Center implemented a mandatory flu vaccination policy this year for all employees, physicians, and volunteers to help prevent the spread of flu to its patients. The medical center also encourages people who are sick with the flu not to come and visit family members in the hospital, to avoid spreading the virus.
The flu can make life miserable for a week or two for many people, but for others, it can be deadly. While a flu vaccination is recommended for everyone, it’s most important for children between the ages of 6 and 19, adults ages 50 and older, pregnant women, anyone with certain chronic diseases, anyone who lives in a nursing home or other long-term care site, health care workers, and people who are in frequent contact with the elderly or chronically ill. Speak with your health
care provider to determine if the flu vaccine is right for you, as some people with extenuating circumstances should not be vaccinated.