Skip to main content

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

By Jennifer Caudle
updated 7:39 AM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
Dr. Jennifer Caudle urges everyone to get their flu shot before the season is over.
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

Editor's note: Dr. Jennifer Caudle, D.O., is a board-certified family medicine physician and assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey. She offers her medical advice for CNN's "New Day," "The Dr. Oz Show" and other media outlets. She can be followed on Twitter @DrJenCaudle.

(CNN) -- 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:

Dr. Jennifer Caudle
Dr. Jennifer Caudle

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

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.)

Universal flu vaccine may be in future
Lab developing long-lasting flu shot
Doctor: Flu shot not perfect, but helpful

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

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.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dr. Jennifer Caudle.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:11 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT