This article is designed to help you clear up misconceptions like:

myth #1 : the flu-shot will make me sick

Fortunately, the Flu-shot does not contain any live virus, and so there is no way that you could catch the Flu or a cold from it. In this way, the Flu-shot is different from the common vaccines for common childhood illnesses such as Chickenpox, Measles, Mumps or Rubella.

However, is understandable that there might be some confusion in public perception about this issue, as a new non-injectable Flu vaccine was released on the market in 2010. This new nasal spray vaccine, called FluMistTM, contains a live attenuated (weakened) form of the Flu. In any case, the FluMist vaccine is not provided or covered under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. The OHIP-covered Flu-shot continues to remain free of any live viruses.

Another contributor to this myth arises from the fact that it often takes several days for people to feel and notice that they are sick after they've been infected with cold or Flu viruses. Therefore, sometimes individuals may think that they were well when they got the Flu-shot, when in actual fact their body was already busy fighting off the cold or Flu they had picked up at work or school several days earlier. Since it takes our bodies about two weeks to react and build up it's immunity after immunization with the Flu-shot, the cold they were previously infected with will run it's course over a few days. However, because the Flu-shot is prominent in their mind, it is often unfairly blamed for the illness.

Instead, the Flu-shot will continue to protect you and them from lost time and illness due to the Flu for the remainder of the season. It's also a reassurance to all of us to realize that even pregnant women (and consequently, their unborn children) have been shown to be safer if they are immunized with the Flu-shot during pregnancy.

myth #2 : getting the flu-shot will weaken my immune system

The Flu-shot, like every other vaccine, is intended to teach the immune system how to fight off the Flu virus on its own, and can help you avoid the need for anti-viral medications such as RelenzaTM or TamifluTM. In this way, the Flu-shot works to help your body and immune system protect itself in a more self-reliant and resilient manner.

If the immune system is your body's army of defence, then the Flu-shot is it's training exercise. It'll help you create your own stockpile of antibodies to shoot down any Flu virus that sneaks into your body's air space.

If you get the Flu-shot, you'll actually have an immune system that's stronger at fighting off the Influenza virus. It'll help you keep yourself and your family healthier this year.

myth #3 : my body will become dependent on the flu-shot

As we've already reviewed, the Flu-shot helps train your immune system to fight of the specific strains of Flu that were expected in our region this year. However, as many of us are now aware, new mutations of the Flu virus can emerge over time. Therefore, the immunity your body gained to last year's virus may not help against this year's new strains. This is the reason that a new Flu-shot vaccine is developed and released each autumn.

Whereas your immune system will continue to function like normal if you choose not to get vaccinated in a particular year, you will simply miss out on the immune-boosting special training that the Flu-shot provides to those who are immunized. To avoid getting the Flu, it only makes sense to give your body the best head-start you can give it, but the choice remains yours each year; there is no risk of dependency on the Flu-shot.

myth #4 : the flu-shot doesn't work

The most common reason for this misconceptation is when some people confuse catching a common cold virus with having a case of Influenza. Whereas the Flu-shot helps prevent you from contracting the Flu and serious complications, it is not a vaccine agains the common cold. Unfortunately, you have work to prevent and recover from the regular colds in the regular manner, as there is not as yet any vaccine for those infections. However, it is easy for people to confuse a runny nose and cough as catching the Flu, when in fact they simply have the common cold.

Fortunately, the Flu-shot is a reliable and effective means of preventing Influenza infections. Modern medicines and treatments have to go through rigorous testing, not only for safety, but especially for effectiveness before they come to market. With more than a decade of use in countries around the world, there are millions of patients who have been vaccinated with the Flu-shot, and their health and outcomes have been closely studied by medical experts and public health agencies. The benefit and value of the Flu-shot in preventing illness, lost productivity, and reducing the risk of serious complications of the Flu, including death, is well documented and confirmed in many dozens of studies and inquiries.

Whereas we're all aware of how the Ministry of Health has made many cuts to health-care funding over the last few decades, and de-listed a lot of services it used to cover, it is a point of some note that the provision of free Flu-shot vaccinations has expanded over that same time period. This is because the life and cost-savings provided by the Flu-shot was evidence that could simply not be ignored. Certainly, if the Flu-shot didn't work, it would have been an easy target for cost-cutting measures. As the cynics amongst us might observe, governments are not usually known for wanting to spend money on health-care. However, we are fortunate that the Flu-shot continues to remain available to us at no cost under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

myth #5 : I don't need the flu-shot

The benefits of vaccination with the Flu-shot are found in nearly all age groups. Even otherwise healthy adolescents and adults will be able to avoid the lost study and work time caused by even a single case of the Flu, and prevent the related economic and academic costs for themselves. Other will benefit even more greatly from the protection provided by the Flu-Shot. Young children, pregnant women, seniors, and those with respiratory or cardiac illness such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or other immune compromise are at greater risk of serious complications, including hospitalization or death, if they contract the Flu. The safety and protection provided by the Flu-shot is one of the most important means of ensuring their safety through the flu-season.

In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the group that advises the Public Health Agency of Canada, currently recommends that everyone aged 2 to 64 years be encouraged to receive annual influenza vaccination, and that children between the age of 6 and 24 months, and their household contacts, should be considered a high priority for the flu vaccine.

Even if you are healthy and not otherwise at a higher risk yourself, you can help to build a circle of protection from the Flu around them, by minimizing the chance of your bringing the Flu to them if you get infected. If either you or someone close you has any risk factors for complications from the Flu, you should get the Flu-shot to keep both yourself and them safe.

    trademarks
  • FluMistTMis a registered trademarks of MedImmune Inc.
  • RelenzaTMis a registered trademarks of GlaxoSmithKline
  • TamifluTMis a registered trademarks of Roche Pharmaceuticals
    references
  1. Niroshan Siriwardena A, Gwini SM, Coupland CAC. "Influenza vaccination, pneumococcal vaccination and risk of acute myocardial infarction: matched case-control study" CMAJ, 182(15), Ocotober 19,2010.
  2. Canada Communicable Disease Report: Statement on Seasonal Inactivated Influenza Vaccine (TIV) for 2010-2011. NACI, Health Canada. 36(6), August 2010.
  3. Influenza Fact Sheet. Toronto Public Health, October 2008.