Flu season is descending upon us, and anyone who remembers how severe the flu was last year has probably already rolled up their sleeve for this year's vaccine, or has made plans to do so soon. For the record, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that just about everyone over the age of six months get a flu shot. It's the easiest way to protect yourself and your family from a week of influenza misery.
So we were seriously alarmed to read about a new flu survey conducted by Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. Officials there surveyed 704 parents of kids and teenagers, and the results revealed widespread skepticism about the effectiveness of the flu shot. Surprisingly, more than half of the parents surveyed believed that their child could contract the flu from the vaccine itself.
We're not sure where the respondents got their flu information. But to lay out the truth about whether a vaccine really can transmit the virus and dispel other flu myths, we reached out to Orlando Health for answers.
First, no one can contract the flu by getting the flu vaccine. “We really want people to understand that you can’t get the flu from the flu shot,” Jean Moorjani, MD, pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, tells Health. The parts of the virus used to make the vaccine are dead, she added. A dead virus can't come back to life and infect someone. Not ever.
So why does this misinformation circulate? “It takes about two weeks after getting the vaccine for your body to build up enough antibodies to protect against the flu,” Dr. Moorjani explains. In other words, if a person comes down with the flu shortly after getting the shot, it wasn’t because of the vaccine itself. Rather, the person didn’t have enough time to build up protective antibodies.
The survey also found that a third of parents don’t believe the shot can safeguard their children from the flu. What's the thinking here? It's true that the flu vaccine is more protective some years over others; scientists create it based on the strains they believe will be circulating when a new flu season begins, but it's impossible to know for sure. For this reason, some years the vaccine offers more protection than others.
“It’s a prediction,” says Dr. Moorjani. “They make the vaccine based on what they think will be the circulating strains of the flu that year.” Even if the vaccine isn’t a 100% match for the strains that end up going around, the antibodies that your body produces after getting the vaccine still reduce your susceptibility and make the jab worth your while, she says.
If you or your children haven’t gotten the flu shot yet, it’s crucial to do so before October 31, Dr. Moorjani explains, before in November and December and while your body has plenty of time to build up antibodies. The vaccine is fast, effective, and often doesn't cost you a thing. Seriously, there's no excuse for skipping it—or letting your kids go without it either.
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