7 myths about the flu vaccine and why you should get it anyway

Dr. Jennifer Caudle urges everyone to get their flu shot before the season is over.

Story highlights

  • Dr. Jennifer Caudle debunks common myths around the flu vaccine
  • The flu vaccine cannot give you the illness, Caudle says
  • Caudle: Vaccination not only protects you but may prevent others from getting your flu

Every year, it's the same battle. Every year, I urge my patients to get the influenza vaccine. And every year, they come up with a bucketful of excuses why they shouldn't.

They're afraid, they say. It hurts, they say. It doesn't work, they say. It'll make me sick, they say.

I understand the concerns, I really do. But the flu vaccine is safe and essential to nipping the seasonal bug in the bud.

Still, I have many patients who refuse to get a vaccination despite my best efforts to persuade them. And I also have patients who are on the fence about getting vaccinated -- either because they don't have all the information they need, or they've heard myths that have made them feel skeptical.

So, in my most public attempt to convince them otherwise, here are the top seven myths I hear about the flu vaccine, and why you should get it anyway:

1. 'I don't want the flu shot because I heard it will give me the flu'

Dr. Jennifer Caudle

When I was a third-year medical student, I got the flu shot. Three days later, I came down with an epic flu-like illness that lasted for days! So I understand that this is the very reason why many think the flu shot causes the flu. But the truth is that the flu vaccine -- the flu shot or nasal spray -- cannot give you the flu.

    So, what happened to me, you ask? Why did I get sick after getting the vaccine? There are a few possible reasons:

    -- It can actually take a couple of weeks for the body to become protected from influenza after getting vaccinated. So it is possible that I became infected during this time.

    -- Many viruses can cause flu-like symptoms. Even though I felt like I had the flu, a different virus could have caused my infection.

    -- The influenza vaccine protects us against the three or four most common strains predicted to cause illness in any given season, thus it is possible that I had a strain of the flu that wasn't covered by the vaccine.

    -- The conventional flu vaccine is pretty effective, but it's not 100% effective.

    But regardless of why I ended up getting sick, it was not from the flu vaccine itself. It just doesn't work that way. (I hope my patients are reading this.)

    2. 'It doesn't really make a difference if I get the flu shot or not'

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    Nothing could be further from the truth. It DOES make a difference.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that vaccinations prevented 79,000 flu hospitalizations and 6.6 million flu-associated illnesses during the 2012-13 influenza season. Complications from the flu can be serious and result in hospitalization, and even death, for some patients. The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated.

    3. 'I'm not a candidate for the flu vaccine'

    With rare exceptions, everyone 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine. Pregnant women, those younger than 5 or older than 65 and people with certain chronic medical conditions are at higher risk for flu-related complications. If this is you, you should definitely talk with your doctor about getting the vaccine.

    4. 'I don't need the flu vaccine because I never get sick'

    Even if you don't get sick -- or only experience mild illness when you are sick -- others might not be as lucky. Infants, the elderly and people with multiple medical conditions or weakened immune systems may not be able to fight off Influenza as well as you do.

    Getting vaccinated not only protects you, but also helps protect others who may not be able to fight off illness as well as you.

    5. 'I heard that the vaccine has side effects'

    Side effects of flu vaccination are generally mild. If you get the flu shot, you might feel achy or have redness or soreness where the shot was given. If you get the nasal spray vaccine, you could get a stuffy nose or throat irritation.

    Talk with your doctor to find out which type of vaccine is right for you and make sure to let him or her know if you get any of these symptoms. Often, we can recommend supportive measures to help you through these.

    But most potential side effects of the vaccine are nothing, compared to how bad you'd feel if you had to suffer through the actual flu.

    6. 'I've never had the flu vaccine before, so why should I get one now?'

    If you've never had a flu vaccine, it's definitely time to get one. Last week's CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows fewer than half of all Americans have gotten vaccinated so far this flu season. It's time to change this. If you have never had the flu vaccine, go out and get one!

    7. 'It's already December. Is it too late to get the flu vaccine?'

    No, it's not too late. That it's December is even more of a reason to get your flu vaccine now. Flu activity tends to peak in January or February, and flu season can last as late as May. so there is plenty of time to receive benefits from the vaccine. What are you waiting for?

    So, if you have given your doctor any of these excuses for why you haven't gotten your flu vaccine, now you know better. Now it's time to do better. Get vaccinated.

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