• By Deborah Balzer

Infectious Diseases A-Z: Busting flu vaccine myths

January 16, 2017

vaccination vials in a laboratory

If you are hesitating to get your annual influenza vaccine, Dr. Gregory Poland, director of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, wants to bust some myths about the flu vaccine that may help you make your decision.

Myth: The vaccine gives you the flu. 

False. "The easy answer is it’s simply not true,” says Dr. Poland. “I think what people are referring to when they say that is, 'I got the flu shot, and, then, I had symptoms which reminded me of the same kind of symptoms I get when I’ve had the flu.' But the problem is that they’re assuming that temporality is causality. I’ll give you an example. When I speak to large audiences, I’ll say – this will be in August or September [and] nobody’s gotten the flu shot yet – how many of you have had muscle aches, low-grade fever, headache, fatigue? And, you know, 40, 50 percent of them will say they have, but then I ask them, if you had just gotten a flu shot the day before that, what would you say? Well, I got it from the flu shot. The point is, you would have blamed it on the flu vaccine."

Myth: People with egg allergies cannot get a flu shot. 

False. "When we say that people with egg allergies can’t get a flu shot, we have to look at the advance of science over time,” says Dr. Poland. “In the past, if somebody had what’s called an anaphylactic allergic reaction to the flu shot, which is due to the egg component, they were right. They couldn’t get it. That is no longer the case. A flu vaccine contains, if any, low levels of detectable egg protein. We now have vaccines no longer produced in eggs. Even somebody who has the worst kind of egg allergy you can imagine can get a flu shot. We have to give them the right one. We wouldn’t give them any one, but we’d give them one not made in chicken eggs."

Myth: It's too late in the season to get a flu shot.

False. "Interestingly enough in the U.S., the peak of our influenza outbreaks are often in the January, February, early March time frame,” says Dr. Poland. “So it is, in fact, never too late. In fact, people will say, well, what about April, May, June? And I would still give it to them if they’re traveling, or they’re in an area where there are a lot of travelers because, remember, the flu season in the southern hemisphere is the opposite of ours. People are always bringing influenza to one or the other hemisphere, and sharing it with each other."

Dr. Poland advises the best way to stay healthy is get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and get a flu vaccine.

Watch: Dr. Poland discusses flu vaccine myths.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites are in the downloads.

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