Common Flu Shot Myths

As much of the focus around the world remains on the coronavirus, it’s important not to overlook another virus that begins making the rounds in the fall: influenza. While the strains of it differ from year to year, it’s an illness that can be especially deadly for older adults. By receiving an annual vaccine, many seniors can lower their risk of contracting it.

Unfortunately, there are a variety of flu shot myths that can keep older adults from being vaccinated in the fall. We’ll explore and fact check some of the most common ones to help you better make an informed choice about getting the flu shot.

Busting Common Flu Shot Myths for Seniors

As we grow older, our immune systems typically become weaker. That can make the flu especially dangerous for elders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seniors comprise 70% to 85% of seasonal influenza-related deaths in the United States, and 50% to 70% of hospital admissions, during an average flu season.

With statistics like those, it’s hard to imagine why older adults resist their doctor’s orders to get an influenza vaccine. Surprisingly, only 65% of seniors receive a flu shot in a typical year.

Here are a few of the myths older adults cite as reasons for not getting vaccinated:

 1. The flu shot makes you sick.

Contrary to popular belief, the flu shot doesn’t contain a live version of the flu. The vaccines have only inactive forms of the virus strains predicted to be the worst that season. But this persistent myth is one of the leading reasons older adults resist getting their flu shot. For most people, the only noticeable side effect is mild muscle soreness near the injection site.

 2. Flu shots don’t change much from year to year.

Another myth that people use as a reason not to get their flu shot is that the vaccine changes very little from year to year. Some believe if they were vaccinated in the last year or so, they are safe for a while. In reality, every flu season is a little different—sometimes even a lot different. Researchers work hard to predict what viruses will be prevalent in a given flu season and to develop a vaccine that best protects people.

 3. Healthy seniors probably don’t need a flu shot.

While it’s true that a strong immune system can help guard against viruses, some strains can be particularly bad. A vaccine offers protection. Another concern is that a healthy senior may develop the flu without even realizing it. They may spread it to friends and family whose immune systems aren’t as strong.

 4. The flu isn’t all that serious.

It’s not uncommon for people to use the terms “flu” and “cold” interchangeably. They are, in fact, two distinct health problems. While a cold might make you uncomfortable, unless you have an underlying health condition, it usually isn’t deadly. By contrast, the flu can be life-threatening. The CDC estimates 36,000 Americans die from it every year, and seniors account for the bulk of those who lose their lives.

The bottom line is, for most older adults, the influenza vaccine should be a part of your annual health maintenance. Talk with your physician if you have any questions or concerns.

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