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July 29, 2020

10 Common Flu Shot Excuses—Debunked

10 Common Flu Shot Excuses—Debunked

Updated on July 29, 2020 at 12:00pm EDT.

With all the fear and confusion swirling around the COVID-19 pandemic, you may feel like it’s simply too much to worry about getting your seasonal flu vaccine. But the fact is, pandemic or not, flu season is coming—and you need to prepare.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is not the same as the viruses that may cause the seasonal flu. But both respiratory diseases can cause serious complications, and having both infections at the same time can be quite dangerous.

While we don’t yet have a vaccine for COVID-19 or an arsenal of effective treatments for the disease, getting the seasonal flu vaccine is still the single best way for nearly everyone to prevent the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

If you’ve relied on any of the following excuses in the past to skip your flu shot, it’s time to reconsider.

It's too late. It's true, getting a flu shot early in the season offers the best protection, but the vaccination will continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later. Flu activity typically peaks in January or February and can last as late as May.

So, when is the best time to get your flu shot? Everyone 6 months and older should receive a flu vaccine by the end of October, if not earlier. Check with your healthcare provider about when the flu shot will be available in your area and when to get it. 

I'm healthy. The flu vaccine is especially important for high-risk people—pregnant women, young kids, older folks and anyone with a compromised immune system. But the rest of us need it, too.

Getting the flu vaccine can help protect you from getting the flu and spreading it to others, including the elderly or those with underlying health conditions who may not be as able to fight off an infection. Also, when you get the flu vaccine you help protect those who should not receive it, such as infants younger than 6 months of age or people with certain health issues or allergies.

I had a flu shot last year. Good going! But you’ll need to get another one this year. Scientists are working to develop a universal flu vaccine. But right now, the flu shot is seasonal. This means it’s reformulated annually to protect against strains of the flu virus predicted to be most widespread.

The flu shot always makes me sick. The flu vaccine is made from dead or weakened viruses, so it can't make you sick. If you do get sick, chances are you were exposed to the virus before getting the shot or you picked up a virus not included in the vaccine. It can take up to two weeks to get full protection from the vaccine.

I live in a warm climate. The flu virus spreads more easily when temperatures outside are cold or the air is dry—such as when you have the heat on—but you can still get sick in a warm climate. The flu can be just as widespread in the balmy Southwest as it is in the frigid Northeast.

I got the flu shot last year, but still got the flu. Occasionally this can happen, but the symptoms suffered are usually less severe when you get the flu shot. Also, the flu shot does not protect against every type of flu virus. It is formulated to offer protection from flu viruses predicted to be most prevalent that flu season.

The flu vaccine costs too much. Most insurance and other government-sponsored health care plans cover the flu vaccine. Some employers will give the flu shot to their employees for free, as will many local health departments. The cost of providing flu shots is much lower than the cost of treating severe flu complications that could result in hospitalizations—or even deaths.

I heard that it’s better to get the flu than to get a flu vaccine. The viruses that cause the seasonal flu can be very serious, especially for young children, older adults, those with chronic health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease) and those who have weakened immune systems. Any flu strain carries the risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death.

Meanwhile, the most common side effects of the flu shot are soreness, redness or swelling in the area where the shot was given, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. The flu shot is a safer bet than getting the flu.

I’ve already had COVID-19, so I should be protected. COVID-19 results from infection with the coronavirus, not an influenza virus. It will not provide protection from flu. The best way to avoid getting the seasonal flu is to get the flu vaccine every year.

I don’t want to risk going out to get a seasonal flu vaccine. The CDC has issued guidance for protecting those receiving flu shots and other vaccines. These guidelines apply to doctors’ offices, pharmacies and temporary vaccination sites. Providing appointment times for flu vaccines and plenty of staff to administer the vaccine will help with safety concerns.

When going out to get your flu shot, it’s important as always to follow social distancing and face covering guidelines. Other ways of receiving the flu vaccine may include mobile outreach units and curbside and drive-through vaccination services.

Even if a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed and made widely available, it is still important to get the seasonal flu vaccine. It may be months or more than a year before an effective COVID-19 vaccine is available. It may take even longer for it to be incorporated into the seasonal flu vaccine.

In the meantime, getting the seasonal flu shot can protect you and those you love from getting seriously ill. If you do become infected with COVID-19, you don’t want to get the flu, too, which could increase your risk of serious illness.

There are some exceptions. Flu shots are off-limits for infants younger than 6 months. Also, check with your doctor if you have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome, if you've had a severe reaction to the flu shot in the past or if you're allergic to eggs (the vaccine may contain egg protein).

Medically reviewed in August 2020.

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Who Needs a Flu Vaccine and When.” Published October 11, 2019. Accessed July 28, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The Flu Season.” Published July 12, 2018. Accessed July 28, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines.” Published September 25, 2019. Accessed July 28, 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2020-2021 Season.” Published July 27, 2020. Accessed July 28, 2020.

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