What You Need to Know About the Flu Vaccine

Person receiving flu vaccine
By Meredith Bailey

Nippy nights, windy days and rainy skies are the hallmarks of autumn in the Pacific Northwest, yet the blustery beauty of fall also portends the arrival of another annual event: influenza season. Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe symptoms, sometimes even death. The flu shot is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from this disease. However, myths abound that discourage some people from getting vaccinated, putting themselves and their loved ones at risk.

Read on as Gretchen LaSalle, MD, a family medicine physician at MultiCare Health System, dispels five of the most common misconceptions about the flu vaccine.

Myth # 1: I’m healthy so I don’t need a flu shot.

Even healthy people die of influenza. In fact, approximately 50 percent of children who die from the flu each year were previously healthy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the flu can cause some of the symptoms we are familiar with, such as high fever, body aches and fatigue, it can also cause pneumonia, sepsis (a life-threatening response to infection) and organ failure. The risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke also increases in the weeks following a flu infection. “We are all potentially at risk for developing dangerous complications from the flu. It’s important for everyone who is eligible — even healthy people — to get vaccinated,” says LaSalle.

Myth # 2: I can get the flu from the flu shot.

The flu shot cannot cause the flu because it is made from inactivated, or dead, viruses. While the flu nasal spray does contain live viruses, they are weakened so that they cannot transmit an infection to someone with a healthy immune system. “It takes two weeks for the vaccine to offer protection, and during that time, people can and sometimes do actually catch the flu,” says LaSalle. “That’s why it is important to get the vaccine before flu season begins.” Some people may also experience mild side effects from the vaccine, such as a low grade fever or muscle aches, that can be mistaken for flu symptoms.

Myth # 3: The flu vaccine doesn’t really work.

It’s true that you may still get the flu despite being vaccinated, but you are less likely to experience a severe form of the illness. “Getting the flu vaccine is similar to wearing a seatbelt. While a seatbelt doesn’t guarantee you won’t get into a car accident, it will help protect you from serious harm if you do,” says LaSalle. “That’s what the flu vaccine does best — it prevents hospitalizations and deaths from influenza.”

Myth #4: I can just build up my immunity naturally.

“Flu viruses mutate, or change, so frequently that having had the flu one year does not provide protection against it the following year, so it’s not possible to develop immunity. That’s why it’s important to get the flu shot annually,” says LaSalle. Getting vaccinated is also a safer choice than being exposed naturally to the virus because flu infections carry a risk of serious health complications.

Myth #5: I can’t get a flu shot because I have an egg allergy.

People with egg allergies can still be vaccinated. However, if you have a history of severe allergic reactions to eggs, such as vomiting or anaphylaxis, it’s best to get a flu shot in a medical clinic, rather than a pharmacy. “Physicians and other health care providers are trained to recognize these life-threatening allergic responses and treat them,” says LaSalle. Another option is to ask for an egg-free alternative. There are two vaccine brands currently available that are not developed using eggs.

Get Vaccinated

The CDC recommends that everyone aged six months and older, including pregnant women, should get a flu vaccine every year, unless otherwise instructed by your physician. The ideal time to get vaccinated is early fall before flu season begins.

Both appointments and walk-in visits are available at a range of MultiCare locations. MultiCare Rockwood Clinic is offering appointments for flu vaccines for established patients on select Saturdays each month. Call 509-233-5102 or learn more.