Myth #1: You don’t need the flu vaccine if you’re young and healthy.
Truth: Older adults and those with underlying health conditions (i.e. asthma, heart disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS) are at higher risk of developing serious complications from flu. Severe complications aren’t as common in young, healthy people, but the risk can’t be disregarded.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)1 recommends everyone 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine each year.
There are only a few exceptions to this recommendation, including:
Those who are younger than 6 months of age.
People who have had severe, life-threatening allergic reactions to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine.
Myth #2: You can get the flu from the flu vaccine.
Truth: Contrary to popular belief, you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.
Unlike the MMR or chickenpox vaccines (which are live vaccines), flu shots2 are made from either inactivated (or killed) viruses or a protein from the flu virus. This means that the virus can’t actually cause an infection. Some side effects from the flu vaccine include:
Soreness at the injection site
The nasal spray vaccine, however, is made from live viruses that are attenuated (or weakened). You can’t get the flu from this type of vaccine either, but some side effects include:
Runny nose or congestion
Myth #3: You can’t get sick if you got the flu vaccine.
Truth: Unfortunately, you can still get sick after receiving your annual flu shot.
Recent vaccine effectiveness studies3 have found that flu vaccination decreases flu risk by around 40% to 60%.
Here are some other reasons why you may get sick even though you got your flu shot:
You were exposed to influenza before your flu shot fully kicked in—it takes about two weeks for your vaccine to take effect.
The flu vaccine doesn’t contain the flu strains going around this year (see #4).
Your body didn’t fully respond to the vaccine due to: age (65+), underlying medical conditions, improper vaccine storage, or improper vaccine administration.
You don’t have the flu, but have another infection that may present like a flu—such as the common cold or pneumonia.
Myth #4: You don’t need to get the flu vaccine every year.
Truth: It’s recommended to get the flu shot every year.
Why? Flu viruses mutate and change all the time. Each year, flu vaccines are tweaked (or reformulated) to provide protection against newer strains scientists expect to see circulating around the country.
Myth #5: The flu is like a cold and can’t result in complications.
Truth: The flu can cause severe complications, such as ear infections, pneumonia, worsening of chronic medical conditions, and multi-organ failure.
Serious complications from the flu can happen to anyone, but those at high risk include:
People 65 years and older
Those with chronic health conditions—like asthma, diabetes, history of stroke, or heart disease
Myth #6: Antibiotics can treat your flu.
Truth: Antibiotics do NOT treat flu.
If you have the flu and your doctor prescribes you an antibiotic, run.
All jokes aside, antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Since influenza is caused by a virus, an antibiotic wouldn’t be an effective treatment option. People at risk for serious complications may be prescribed an anti-viral4 medication to treat flu.
Myth #7: Pregnant mothers cannot get the flu shot.
Truth: Flu vaccines can be administered safely during pregnancy.
Flu shots are recommended during pregnancy and can provide protection for both the mother and the baby. It’s important to note that pregnant women should get the flu shot and NOT the nasal flu vaccine (or live attenuated vaccine).
Myth #8: The nasal flu vaccine is just as effective as the shot.
Truth: Researchers are not sure is the nasal flu vaccine is as effective as the shot.
After the 2009 flu pandemic, several studies conducted in the U.S. found that the nasal spray vaccine was effective against influenza A(H3N2) and B viruses, but not effective against the H1N1 flu virus that was circulating at the time. These findings led to the CDC5 to recommend against using the nasal spray vaccine for following flu seasons.
Since 2017-2018, the manufacturer of the nasal spray vaccine has changed the formulation—providing protection against the H1N1 virus. However, there have not been any new effectiveness studies in the U.S. since this change.
Myth #9: You have to have symptoms to be able to spread the flu to others
Truth: You can spread the flu to others, even if you don’t have symptoms.
More than one in 10 people are infected with the influenza virus each year—that’s a lot of people. After being exposed to a flu virus, most healthy individuals can start to become contagious about a day before symptoms develop, and remain contagious for 5 to 7 days after. Children and those with weakened immune systems may be contagious for longer
Myth #10: The flu vaccine provides protection against all types of influenza viruses
Truth: The flu vaccine provides protection against four types of flu viruses most likely to cause illness each year.
As mentioned in #4, flu viruses mutate and change all the time. Because of this, scientists must monitor seasonal flu surveillance data and “update” the vaccines each year to provide protection against newer strains.