Flu season is just barely underway, but this past week it was reported that one person has already died from the flu – a child from Florida. This is heartbreaking, but we will be seeing more stories like these in the coming months. Last year, according to the CDC, 180 children died of the flu, the highest number of pediatric deaths in 40 years.
So what can we do to protect our own children for tragedies like these? Well, besides washing hands (our kids’ and our own) like no tomorrow; encouraging our fellow parents to keep their kids home when they are sick; and ummmmmm, keeping our kids in a bubble from October to May, the single best thing you can do is get your kids a flu shot.
Flu shots are not perfect. Because it is difficult to predict with absolute certainty what flu strains will dominate from one season to another, getting a flu shot does not guarantee that you will not get the flu. But it does offer protection, has been proven to save lives, and it is the best thing we have right now.
Here’s the thing you need to remember most of all: if you vaccinate your child against the flu, even if they still contract the flu, their symptoms will be milder if they have been vaccinated.
That means that if they get the flu, they are much less likely to be hospitalized or die. In fact, according to the latest CDC report, of the 180 kids who died of the flu last season, a whopping 80% had not been vaccinated.
Given all that—along with the fact that doctors and every major medical organization recommend that kids six months and older get the shot—it’s pretty dang surprising the number of healthy, eligible kids who skip the shot. Yup, only 57% of kids got the shot during the 2017-2018 flu season, a little more than half. That’s extremely concerning if you ask me.
Why don’t more people get it? Well, it definitely has something to do with education and accessibility—and we need to make sure that healthcare is equitable and available to all. But aside from that, one of the major reasons why people decide to skip the shot is that they buy into some very common, but extremely dangerous myths about the flu shot.
A recent survey from Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Florida shed some light on these misconceptions. And let me tell you, they are very troubling indeed—not just what people believe, but the high number parents who buy into the B.S.
So, here goes.
Myth #1: The flu shot doesn’t protect against the flu.
A third of all parents think the shot actually doesn’t protect kids from the flu at all. As in, the CDC and the Academy of American Pediatrics and the American Medical Association all recommend something that does absolutely nothing? Yep, that makes a ton of sense.
Myth #2: The flu shot will give you the flu.
50% – as in, half of all freaking parents – believe that their kids will actually catch the flu from the vaccine itself. Sigh. This one never ceases to amaze me. That’s just not how vaccines work, Brenda. The whole point of them is to expose you to such a low dose of the virus that you won’t get sick, but will instead produce antibodies for said virus to protect you in the future.
It’s pretty magical when you think about it. Isn’t science cool?
Just ask anyone who practices medicine for a living. Jean Moorjani, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, explains it this way:
“The parts of the virus that are used are completely dead, so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot,” Moorjani explained in an article about the survey. “After receiving the shot, it takes your body about two weeks to build up antibodies to fight the flu, so if you come in contact with the virus during that time, you may still get sick, which is why you should get your flu shot as early as possible.”
Myth #3: The flu vaccine causes autism.
If you want to get your blood boiling even more, the survey also found that 28% of parents still believe a myth that I personally thought had been sufficiently debunked years ago. Yup, according to the survey results, over a quarter of all parents believe that the flu shot causes autism.
One more time for the people in the back: VACCINES DON’T CAUSE AUTISM.
Dr. Moorjani swooped in to clear that one up, too. “After years of research, we know that the flu vaccine is safe,” she said. “The flu shot does not cause autism or any other diseases or illnesses. Doctors recommend the flu shot because it is the best way to protect you and your family from the flu.”
FACT: THE FLU SHOT SAVES LIVES.
And there you have it, folks. Just please get the damn shot. I feel you on all the concerns. I dread vaccines myself, and my youngest has developed an intense fear of needles lately, so getting the shot is not exactly going to be a walk in the park. But we are scheduled to get it this weekend (the advice is that everyone get theirs by the end of October), and we will be there with bells on—as well as an ample supply of bribery candy.
Remember, too, that you aren’t just getting the shot for yourself and your family. There are millions of vulnerable, immunocompromised, medically challenged folks out there – some of whom are prohibited from getting the shot themselves for medical reasons – who rely on herd immunity to stay well.
So throw those myths and misconceptions in the garbage from whence they came, roll up your sleeves, and get your damn flu shot already.