Child sneezing It's time to start thinking about the flu — or perhaps to adjust your thinking. While everyone may be familiar with the influenza virus and how lousy it feels to be in bed with the flu, there are some myths about influenza and the influenza vaccine that persist year after year.

Here are the most common misconceptions:

Myth: The influenza vaccine doesn't work.

Fact: The influenza vaccine isn't perfect, and it is possible, although unlikely, that you can become ill with the flu even if you have received the vaccine. However, if you get the influenza vaccine and still get the flu, your symptoms are likely to be much less severe than if you skipped the vaccine altogether.

Myth: You don't need the flu vaccine every year.

Fact: The influenza virus changes as it replicates. That means each flu season, the strains of the virus circulating may be different enough that immunity from previous vaccinations or infections is no longer protective.

The flu vaccines that arrive in doctors’ offices and pharmacies each fall have been revised to more closely represent the influenza viruses that are expected to arrive in the upcoming flu season. Therefore, you need to get vaccinated at the beginning of a new flu season (for example, fall 2020) even if you got vaccinated earlier in the same calendar year (for example, January 2020) because the new flu season can bring a new strain.

Another reason to get vaccinated against flu each year is because immune protection from the influenza vaccine fades over time.

For these reasons, it’s important to get the flu vaccine every year.

Myth: The flu vaccine causes the flu.

Fact: The influenza vaccine shot doesn't contain live viruses, so it can't cause the flu. Although the nasal spray version does contain live, weakened influenza vaccine viruses, these viruses cannot enter the bloodstream or reproduce themselves in the lungs to cause an infection.

Side effects from the influenza shot may include soreness at the site of injection, low-grade fever, headache or muscle aches. For those who get the nasal spray, side effects may include mild congestion, runny nose, sore throat or cough.

These symptoms rarely last longer than a few hours. You can choose the nasal spray instead of the shot if you are a healthy person aged 2 to 49.

However, vaccination should not be delayed to wait for a particular version of the vaccine (unless you have a medical reason not to get the vaccine). It is most important to be immunized in advance of influenza season.

Myth: It's better to get the flu than the influenza vaccine.

Fact: While some may feel like the flu is nothing more than a stuffy, achy, feverish inconvenience, the flu can be a very serious condition, especially in young children and people at high risk for suffering complications.

Pregnant women and people with asthma, heart conditions or diabetes are among those considered to be at higher risk for complications that can lead to hospitalization or death even in previously healthy individuals.

In particular, during this global pandemic, the possibility of having the flu and COVID-19 – possibly at the same time – poses a very real danger. Scientists will be working to understand whether infection with one makes an individual more susceptible to the other, and healthcare resources, already limited by COVID-19, may be overwhelmed if tens or hundreds of thousands of additional people require medical attention or hospitalization.

Myth: Healthy people don’t need the influenza vaccine.

Fact: It might have been years since you last had the flu, and you may think of yourself as pretty healthy, but every year, previously healthy parents and children die from the flu — thousands to tens of thousands of people in the United States die each year from influenza and its complications.

Getting vaccinated keeps the influenza virus out of your house, which is especially important if you have a baby too young to be vaccinated. Children younger than 6 months can't receive the influenza vaccine.

As with other respiratory infections, influenza virus can find its way into your house even if your family is limiting contact with the outside world and your child is home schooling or virtual schooling.

Remember that the flu is more dangerous to your child than the average cold, since it can lead to more serious conditions such as pneumonia or other bacterial infections. Last year, 188 children died as a result of an infection with influenza. Be sure to make an appointment to have yourself and your children vaccinated for the flu. All children 6 months and older are recommended to receive the influenza vaccine.

Visit the Vaccine Education Center website for more information about influenza and the influenza vaccine.

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