Last year’s flu season was one for the books. While around 200,000 Americans are hospitalized for flu-related complications during an average year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that hospitalization rates during the 2017 to 2018 flu season were higher than ever. There were anywhere from 700,000 to 900,000 flu-related hospitalizations in total. Even scarier, as many as 56,000 flu-related deaths have occurred since 2010, with 180 of the deaths occurring during last year’s season among children.
But despite those scary flu season statistics, research shows that Americans are skeptical about the best preventative method currently available — the flu shot. Not only do many of us suspect the shot isn’t as effective as medical professionals would have us believe, but we’re also convinced that the vaccination will actually make us sick. Contrary to popular belief, the flu shot won’t make you sick.
What parents should know about the flu shot
According to a new national survey conducted by the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, more than half of the parents surveyed (who have children under the age of 18) believe their child can contract the flu from the flu shot itself. Around one-third of parents don’t believe the shot actually protects against the virus.
What many Americans aren’t aware of is that the vaccine takes about two weeks to build up the protective antibodies needed to fight the flu. If someone gets the shot but contracts the virus before those antibodies develop, they can still get sick. And since the flu doesn’t always appear right away, you could even be sick before you get the shot.
It certainly is possible to experience certain symptoms of illness after you have your yearly flu shot. These may include arm swelling and tenderness, body aches, and even low-grade fever. But don’t get it twisted: this is not actually the flu. This is simply your body stimulating its immune response. It’s actually a good thing, though it may not feel that way.
Simply put, it’s impossible for you to come down with the flu from the flu shot. As experts have to explain again and again to misinformed patients, the vaccine does not contain the live flu virus. The virus is inactivated, which means you literally cannot contract the flu from it. Subdued flu-like symptoms are possible, but they’re nothing like the real thing. This will prevent you from getting sick later on in the season (or if you do still contract the flu, it’ll be much less severe). But it also protects people around you from getting the virus — particularly those with depressed immune systems or who are physically unable to get the shot.
Why do some parents opt out of the flu shot?
Some people think there’s no point in getting the shot at all. In fact, 30% of parents surveyed in the aforementioned study feel the flu shot is actually a conspiracy (not to mention the staggering 28% of parents who believe this and other vaccines cause autism). And while the flu shot is not 100% effective, data shows that the vaccine from the 2016-2017 flu season prevented more than 5 million flu illnesses, 2 million medical visits, and around 85,000 hospitalizations. Considering the average cost of one day in a U.S. hospital was $4,293 in 2013, that should be enough to convince you to take action and go get your shot before winter hits. Now is the time to get it, as flu season can start as early as October and carry on through March.
If you simply can’t do needles, you should be able to opt for the nasal spray version of the vaccine, as the CDC has confirmed it’ll be available for this year’s flu season. However, pregnant mothers should opt for the shot instead. The American Academy of Family Physicians has recommended that everyone over the age of six months who does not have a health condition that prohibits them from getting the vaccine should get the shot. Since children under the age of five, pregnant women, seniors over the age of 65, and people with special medical conditions are most susceptible to the flu, your decision to get immunized may impact more than just you and your immediate family; you could also be providing protection for anyone with whom you come into contact.
Need even more incentive? Most insurance plans (including Medicare) will cover your flu shot at no out-of-pocket cost to you. These shots are also more accessible than ever, available at grocery stores, doctors’ offices, community events, and pharmacies like CVS, Rite Aid, and ShopRite. You’d actually have to work hard to not go somewhere that offers free flu shots. But please don’t. No matter how much hand-washing you do or home remedies you try, nothing will boost your immunity more than getting the shot. Even though the flu shot won’t make you sick, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, after all.