Doctors ‘flabbergasted’ that half of parents think flu shot causes the flu: ‘It’s impossible’

For years, doctors have stressed the importance of vaccinating adults and children against the flu. But a new survey from Orlando Health found that more than half of parents with children under the age of 18 believe that their child can get the flu from the flu vaccine.

“I’m flabbergasted,” William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I and many others have been saying for over 20 years that you can’t get the flu from the flu vaccine. I don’t know how to say it any louder. You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. That’s a myth.”

More than half of parents think a flu shot can give their children the flu. Experts say that’s false. (Photo: Sergei Bobylev/TASS via Getty Images)
More than half of parents think a flu shot can give their children the flu. Experts say that’s false. (Photo: Sergei Bobylev/TASS via Getty Images)

Repeating the message, “It’s impossible for the flu vaccine to give you the flu,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “All of the components, whether it’s the nasal or injectable vaccine, do not constitute the official flu virus.”

The nasal spray contains a weakened flu virus that can’t replicate (and therefore make you sick), while the flu shot “just contains parts of the virus,” Adalja says.

Here’s how the flu vaccine works, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): The vaccine causes antibodies to develop in your body about two weeks after you’ve been vaccinated. These antibodies then protect you against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.

The actual viruses that go into the vaccine are dictated by research that suggests they’ll be the most common during the upcoming season, the CDC explains. This changes annually, which, along with waning immunity, is why it’s recommended that you get a flu shot every year.

There are a few reasons why people might mistakenly think that the flu vaccine gives you the flu. Again, it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to kick in, and people often get the vaccination during cold and flu season. It’s completely possible to pick up something — like a respiratory virus or even the flu — either right before or right after you got your shot, Schaffner says. “Obviously, there are colds and the flu going around,” he says. “If you get your flu vaccine on Monday and on Wednesday you start sneezing, you did not start to develop the flu from the vaccine. You likely picked up a cold somewhere, and this was a coincidence.”

Side effects of the vaccine usually include redness, swelling, and soreness where you were injected (if you go the shot route), but “a small percent of individuals, around one or two percent, can get a fever that can last for 24 or rarely 48 hours,” Schaffner says. “That’s also not the flu. It’s your body responding to the vaccine and starting to make protection.”

In early September, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that parents get their children vaccinated against the flu “as soon as it is available” and ideally before the end of October.

Experts stress that parents need to understand the importance of vaccinating their children against the flu. “There’s no reason to be nervous about getting your children vaccinated against the flu,” Adalja says. “You should be nervous about not getting your children vaccinated. Eighty percent of children who die from the flu are not vaccinated. By not vaccinating your child, you are putting your child’s life in danger.”

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