'The Flu Shot Gives You The Flu' And Other Ridiculous Vaccine Myths

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
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Get your flu shot.

About ten years ago, I suddenly felt… like I had to lie down. Badly. At home, I promptly collapsed into bed. My fever hit 103 degrees, and even with Tamiflu, I laid on my couch, in snotty, coughing, achy misery, for six days. I remained tottery and exhausted for at least a week. I hadn’t gotten a flu shot that year.

Two years ago, my whole family had been jabbed. At Christmas, we all came down with body aches, fevers, sore throats, and respiratory gunk. My husband tested positive for the flu. Symptoms, for each of us, were incredibly mild; our fevers never rose above 101 degrees. Three days later, we were up and about.

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Some people would claim my flu shot didn’t work: we still got the flu. But our cases were laughably mild — I sewed pajama pants for my kids mid-illness — and didn’t linger. We had no complications. We had no exhaustion. My husband, prone to bronchitis that morphs into pneumonia, kept his lungs healthy.

Those flu shots did their job.

There’s a lot of misinformation about the flu shot, how it works, and what its goals are. Right now, it’s imperative we avoid unnecessary doctor and hospital visits. If you can get jabbed, you should.

No, The Flu Shot Isn’t Perfect

The effectiveness of any year’s flu vaccine depends on scientists’ ability to predict which viral strains will circulate where, says The New York Times. And the flu virus mutates rapidly: so rapidly that according to Science Magazine, the vaccine’s efficacy (i.e., how many people were protected from the virus) ranged from a dismal 19% to 60% from 2009-2019.

However, a vaccine you don’t get can’t protect against disease. More importantly, according to the Mayo Clinic, if you do get a flu shot (like we did) and contract the flu (like we did), your symptoms will likely be less severe. Moreover, a flu shot will reduce your risk of complications and hospitalization at a time when we all want to stay out of doctor’s offices and emergency rooms.

No, The Flu Vaccine Will Not Give You The Flu

According to the Mayo Clinic, verbatim: “No. The flu vaccine can’t give you the flu.” It’s actually impossible. As the Center for Disease Control explains, the flu shot is either made with inactivated (i.e., dead) virus, or a single protein from the influenza. While a nasal spray contains the live virus, it’s weakened so it can’t make you sick.

However, a narrative has arisen among vaccine skeptics (and I used to believe it myself) that a flu shot will give you the flu. This happens, the Mayo Clinic explains, for a few reasons. People may have a normal vaccine reaction and conflate it with a mild case of the flu; in some cases, people who receive a flu shot may experience “low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches,” according to the CDC. Among people who elect to get the nasal spray, “runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, sore throat and cough” may occur. However, in the words of the CDC, “The most common reactions people have to flu vaccines are considerably less severe than the symptoms caused by actual flu illness.”

It also takes an entire two weeks, says the Mayo Clinic, for immunity from a flu shot to kick in. So if you’re exposed within those two weeks, it may very well look like you got the flu from a shot. You didn’t.

And did you actually have a positive flu test? If you didn’t, you may have had a really, really bad, miserable cold or other virus.

The Flu Shot And Big Pharma

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When a study in Social Science Medicine asked people why they didn’t get a flu shot, they claimed doubts about the for-profit medical industry. As one man said, “These people, it’s a business. They don’t make money curing you. They make money selling you drugs. They’re drug dealers.” Many used the need for yearly flu vaccinations as evidence — we don’t, for example, vaccinate people every year against the measles! However, the virus evolves so quickly that people in warm areas who receive a vaccination in early fall may not be immune in late spring, says Science Magazine.

And of course vaccines are profitable; if they weren’t, no one would make them. This actually happened, according to The Atlantic: in 1967, 27 companies manufactured vaccines; by 1980, only 17 did so. Wyeth, since bought by Pfizer, says they stopped making flu vaccines because profits were so low.

A sure way to make vaccine shortages? Make vaccines unprofitable.

Yes, You Can Probably Afford A Vaccine

If you have insurance, your insurance probably pays for it. Mine was free at my local pharmacy this year. If you’re insured through the Affordable Care Act of Medicare Part B, your shot is free. Many free clinics and county health departments offer free shots. Colleges generally give free shots to students and faculty; your workplace may offer the flu shot for free.

If not, your flu shot is likely to cost somewhere around twenty to fifty dollars. But if you look hard, you can likely find it for no cost.

Get It Now.

This year, scientists fear what The New York Times is calling a “Twindemic.” Last year, we had what they call a “mild” flu season. There were 39-56 million cases, 740,000 hospitalizations, and around 24,000-60,000 deaths. Los Angeles has zero ICU beds available, and according to The LA Times, they fear situation may worsen. Anything with a chance of freeing up ICU beds and needed hospital staff has gone beyond personal choice and into civic duty. To lighten the burden on our already-crushed medical system, we all need to get a flu shot.

It works; it won’t give you the flu; and so what if pharmaceutical companies make some cash off it? If they didn’t, they wouldn’t manufacture it (unless our government took over production, and people would caterwaul about that, too). By getting a flu shot, you may be freeing up a needed ICU bed. Maybe not because you get the flu. Maybe because you get the flu and unknowingly spread it to grandma or your asthmatic friend. But right now, we need all hands on deck to handle COVID-19. We don’t have time to coddle you. Get jabbed.

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