The Influenza Vaccine and the Flu: Separating FACT from FICTION

Flu shot being given by doctor with a full needle

As healthcare professionals, we encourage wellness through healthy living and preventative care.  One of the many ways to promote wellness is through encouraging the use of vaccines to prevent the spread of diseases.  According to the CDC’s Global Immunization Division (GID), vaccines save an estimated 2 to 3 million lives annually. Despite all of the positive outcomes that result from vaccinations, many people are hesitant at this time of the year to receive the flu vaccine. Such seems to be the case with the employee population at one of our sites, Lemuel Shattuck Hospital.

Last season, an unprecedented number of employees (almost 50%) refused the flu vaccine for various reasons at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital. Upon review of these reasons, it was noted that there is much misinformation about the vaccine that has caused this apprehension. In an effort to help dispel these myths, the Pharmacy department, in partnership with the Infection Control and Employee Health Staff, created and posted flyers to “Bust the Myths” about the Influenza Vaccine, the flu virus itself, and treatment.  Also, the Pharmacy staff created a poster marketing the upcoming flu season. By taking some of the reasons from staff as to why they refused the vaccine and setting the record straight as to why their beliefs may be misguided, we are hoping to improve acceptance of the vaccine this year.

Here are some of the myths that were addressed in the flyer:

MYTHYou can catch the flu from the vaccine.

FACT: The vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that cannot transmit infection. People who get sick after receiving the vaccine are going to be sick anyway as it takes up to 2 weeks to get protection from the vaccine.  The assumption there is that the vaccine caused the flu, but it is that they were exposed within that 2 week period.

MYTHIf I am healthy, I don’t need to be vaccinated.

FACT: While it is especially important for people with chronic illness to get the flu vaccine, anyone, even healthy folks can benefit from being vaccinated. 

MYTHThe vaccine is all you need to do to protect yourself from the flu.

FACT:  While vaccination is a key part of flu prevention, there are other important steps to protect yourself during the flu season. Hand washing frequently or using a hand sanitizer when hand washing is not available is equally important. Encourage co-workers with the flu to stay home and avoid contact with others to limit exposure. Also, should you get the flu, consider seeing your doctor for a prescription for an antiviral medication to shorten the duration of the flu symptoms.  Remember, it is important to start an antiviral within the first 48 hours of the signs of flu symptoms in order to be effective.

MYTH: You cannot spread the flu if you are feeling well.

FACT: Actually, 20-30% of people carrying the influenza virus have no symptoms.

MYTHYou don’t need to get the flu shot every year.

FACT:  The virus changes (mutates) each year and the vaccine is customized to assure immunity for the strains most likely to cause an outbreak.  

MYTHYou can catch the flu going out in cold weather without a coat or with wet hair or by sitting near a drafty window or doorway.

FACT:  The only way to catch the flu is by being exposed to the influenza virus. Flu season coincides with cold weather, so people often associate the flu with a cold drafty environment.

MYTHIf you have a high fever with the flu that lasts more than a day or so, I may need to take antibiotics.

FACT:  Antibiotics are not effective for a viral infection like the flu.  Many people do develop a secondary bacterial infection as a complication of the flu, so it is always a good idea to be checked out by a physician if your symptoms continue or worsen. Misuse of antibiotics for viruses like the flu promotes resistance by bacteria which can make such bacterial infections more difficult to treat.

The flu is an excellent example of how medical myths can get in the way of good sound medical care and advice. The staff at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital is actively taking the steps to encourage their employees to stay healthy by separating myth from fact in their effort to improve vaccine acceptance.  Best wishes to their team on this campaign.


by Tim Crowley, Transitional Leader for CompleteRx

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