‘Science Says’ Sunday – The Flu Shot

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There are so many questions out there about science and health, and so many people willing to share misinformed and/or non-evidence based information, that I decided to create a ‘Science Says’ Sunday series. I polled the Instagram Community and came up with this series to share evidence-based information with you on a number of science and health-related topics. There will be one posted every Sunday, so stay tuned!

In today’s post, we are talking about the flu and the flu shot. Lots of misconceptions out there, so here are some myths and facts:

MYTH: You can get the flu from the flu shot/vaccine.

  1. You CANNOT get the flu from the flu vaccine. People who get sick after the flu vaccine were going to get sick anyway. It takes 1-2 weeks to be fully protected from the flu after getting the vaccine, so it is still possible to get sick during that time. That’s why it’s important to get the flu shot as early as possible when it’s offered every fall (usually Sept/Oct).


MYTH: Getting the flu is better than getting the flu vaccine.

False. The flu a serious viral infection and can be especially serious in children and older adults, not to mention people who are immunocompromised (eg people undergoing chemotherapy) or babies who are too young to be vaccinated against the flu. The vaccine works best if everyone gets it; it minimizes the amount of people who get sick and can transmit disease to others.


MYTH: The flu shot contains harmful ingredients.

Vaccine skeptics have centered on this and cited Thimerosal (preservative) and formaldehyde (used to kill the virus) among the harmful chemicals used in the making or preservation of the flu vaccine. REPEATED, peer-reviewed studies have shown that these substances are not harmful in the tiny amounts contained in flu vaccines.


MYTH: You don’t need to get a flu shot every year.

The influenza virus changes (mutates) each year. So getting vaccinated each year is important to make sure you have immunity to the strains most likely to cause an outbreak. Getting the flu vaccine has also been associated with less severe symptoms even if you do end up getting the flu, so it’s worth getting it either way.


MYTH: It’s too late to get your flu shot this year.

Though flu season is well underway, it is NOT too late to get your shot, since the season typically continues into February or beyond.

Other concerns:

The flu vaccine can cause severe side effects. The flu vaccine has been associated with the onset of Guillain-Barré Syndome (GBS), in very rare cases. It has been reported in 1 in 1 million people who get the flu vaccine. The exact cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome is unknown. But it is often preceded by an infectious illness such as a respiratory infection or the stomach flu. It is possible that cases associated with the flu would have developed even in the absence of getting the flu vaccine.

Information for this post was sourced from the Centers for Disease Control, The World Health Organization, the Harvard Health Blog, and Dr. Andrea Carcelen of John Hopkins University. Thanks for reading and look forward to sharing more with you this year!

yours truly, dr. b


2 thoughts on “‘Science Says’ Sunday – The Flu Shot

  1. Bamini J says:

    Thanks for this great piece about the flu shot.
    Would you consider adding something about how the flu vaccine doesn’t 100% guarantee protection from the flu every year but it’s still worth getting the flu shot because the benefits far outweigh the risks.


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