We can think of an excuse to get out of anything we don't want to do - like getting a flu shot. Maybe you're one of those folks who rarely get sick so you scoff at the flu messages each year. Maybe you're plain scared. But the truth of the matter is, if you're over 65, you're playing with fire if you don't get the flu vaccine. This age group has the highest rates of influenza-related deaths and hospitalizations, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Because the immune system weakens with age, seniors are more susceptible to the flu," says Papatya Tankut, vice president of pharmacy affairs at CVS/pharmacy.
Hear that? So while your anxiety is real and understandable, there is absolutely no good reason for you to delay. And in case you're still trying to talk your way out of it as I type, let us debunk the most common falsehoods about the flu vaccine right now so you can be on your way to a pharmacy near you.
"The flu shot gives you the flu."
This is a classic one. In reality, the viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so people cannot get the flu from a flu shot, Tankut says. You may experience minor side effects including soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low grade fever or ache. "These side effects begin soon after the shot and usually last one to two days. Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it."
"It's too late to get the flu shot."
No way is it too late. In fact, now is the most critical time to get it. Although flu season has come early this year, according to the CDC, it's not too late to get vaccinated. Flu season typically peaks in January or February. It takes about two weeks after being vaccinated to develop full protection, so you should make getting the vaccine a priority.
"If you get the flu, you can't get it again during that flu season."
If true, that would be wonderful. You'd be off the hook. However, different strains of the flu circulate each season; so don't assume that if you have already had the flu, you will not get it again, Tankut warns. If you have already had the flu this season, you should still make it a priority to receive the flu shot.
"Antibiotics will help fight against the flu."
We see your thinking, but it's not the case. Antibiotics work well against bacteria, but are not effective for a viral infection like the flu.
"The flu is only spread by coughing and sneezing."
While the flu is spread by coughing, sneezing, and even talking, the flu virus can survive for a few hours or even a day on surfaces and in enclosed spaces. The most common way the flu virus is spread is when hands that have been in contact with contaminated surfaces go near your face. That is why you should wash your hands frequently with soap and water or have an alcohol-based cleanser handy.
There you have it. If you can get past your fear of the flu shot, know this: You have two options for vaccines! The regular seasonal flu shot or the high-dose flu vaccine for adults over the age of 65. This vaccine contains three flu strains, four times the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that causes the body to produce antibody) and is intended to create a stronger immune response.
OK, enough reading. Time to get that shot!
Photo credit: USACE Europe District via Flickr.