THE BLOG
12/11/2017 17:12 EST | Updated 12/13/2017 14:57 EST

Worried About Flu Shot Side Effects? Be Worried About The Flu, Instead

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When it comes to flu shots, African-Americans have trust issues.

Misconceptions about the effectiveness and trepidation about potential side effects have some feeling like getting the flu is better than braving a shot. Even with increased access to health care and widespread availability of free and low-cost vaccines, many are unnecessarily skeptical and, therefore, flu-shot averse, which is bad for us all. It’s not just African-Americans. In general, the flu shot is not as popular as it should be. Fewer than half of the adults in this country are rolling up their sleeves each year, but African-Americans are less likely than most and getting sicker as a result. Last year, the hospitalization rate for flu-related complications was nearly double that of the previous year, and we are on the brink of another dangerous season. Part of the reluctance stems from a gap in education. For years, outreach has focused on the dangers of the flu, without adequately addressing the side effects that have many people – especially African-Americans – sounding the alarm. A recent study focuses on just how uneasy African-Americans are about potential side effects, and sheds new light on the regret that many feel after experiencing an unintended consequence from something they’re not convinced will keep them healthy. It’s time to set the record straight. While there’s no good time to get the flu, the holidays are an especially bad time. Before you head into the most wonderful time of the year unprotected, consider these myth-busting facts.  

Myth 1: I shouldn’t get a flu shot if I have chronic health issues.

Fact: Flu vaccinations have reduced hospitalizations for people with diabetes by 80 percent and for people with lung disease by 50 percent, and they reduce the number of cardiac events for people with heart disease. Given that 13 percent of African-American adults – or more than one in 10 – have diabetes, and the most common cause of death for people with diabetes is heart attack or stroke, a flu shot may just be the healthiest decision made all year. The bottom line here is don’t underestimate the flu, and don’t let misinformation about side effects scare you off from the flu shot. Like any vaccine, the benefits can feel intangible because you don’t see the germs your body is fighting, but choosing the flu over minor side effects is flawed logic. There are 166 million doses of the flu vaccine available nationally, and it’s not too late to protect yourself, or to help protect others who may need it even more than you.

Myth 2: The flu shot won’t prevent me from getting the flu.

Fact: The effectiveness of flu vaccines can vary, but they do in fact prevent the flu, or at the very least, limit the severity. Remember the flu is not a singular virus but rather a blanket term for a type of virus that functions similarly and strikes seasonally, right around now. The flu shot by design attacks the three or four most dangerous strands each year, and as a result, decreases illness among the overall population by as much as 60 percent, but it doesn’t cover everything.

Myth 3: Getting the flu is no big deal.

Fact: People get really sick – and sometimes die – from the flu. It enters through the eyes, nose and mouth and triggers upper respiratory problems, but it can easily progress to the lungs, which can be dangerous. Even if you are relatively healthy and get off easy with a mild case, you can accidentally spread it to more vulnerable people, like babies, young children, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions, who will fare much worse. The flu shot is no big deal, but the flu can be a very big deal.

Myth 4: I got a shot last year, so I don’t need one this year.

Fact: Flu viruses change every year, and so do the vaccines. Even still, vaccines only live in your system for six months to a year before your body begins to outsmart it. The CDC recommends a yearly flu shot for nearly everyone over six months, so make it part of your family holiday tradition, or better yet, knock it out in October when flu season is just beginning.

Myth 5: The side effects of a flu shot are worse than the flu.

Fact: Roughly 65 percent of people experience mild side effects like slight redness and a sore arm, and just one percent get a low-grade fever, but these pale in comparison to the misery of the flu. Yes, in very rare cases there can be an allergic reaction, but we’re talking one in a million doses, while the flu has caused upwards of 60 million illnesses, 700,000 hospitalizations and 56,000 deaths annually since 2010.

Myth 6:  I might get the flu from the flu shot.

Fact: This is impossible. A flu shot either has an inactivated virus that has been chopped into tiny pieces and is not infectious, or in the case of recombinant vaccine, no flu virus at all. If you get sick around the time of your flu shot, you may have been exposed before your vaccination (it takes two weeks to take effect), or you may have an uncommon strand that the vaccine doesn’t prevent. Regardless, it’s just a bad coincidence, so don’t blame the vaccine.