Kids and flu shots: Two common myths

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

As a pediatrician, I am really passionate about the flu shot. Influenza can be a nasty illness; every year, thousands of people are hospitalized with influenza and its complications, and some of those people die. The flu shot can protect my patients and their families, and I enthusiastically recommend it to all of them.

And yet many of them refuse, despite my best efforts. What is particularly frustrating is that many of them refuse because of misunderstandings about the flu shot. There is all sorts of misinformation out there, but here are the two most common myths:

1. The flu shot can make you sick. This is the one I hear most of all. Now, as with any medical treatment, it’s true that the flu shot can have side effects. Very often, people will have some soreness for a couple of days where they got the shot, and some people may feel a bit sick for a couple of days, and some may have a slight fever. These side effects aren’t serious and go away by themselves; more serious side effects are extremely rare.

The flu shot, however, cannot give you the flu. The vaccine itself is made from components of the flu; that’s how it works, by helping your body make antibodies that can fight the flu if you get exposed. But those components are either dead (in the case of the shot) or extremely weak (in the case of the nasal spray version) and cannot give you influenza. To be extra safe, we recommend the shot instead of the nasal spray for people with very weakened defenses and those who take care of them. But it’s really only the ones with very weakened defenses, like people on chemotherapy for cancer, that are affected by this recommendation — and it is more of a precaution than anything else.

It’s important to remember that we give the flu shot during the flu season — and that it can take a couple of weeks to take effect. Therefore, it’s possible to get the flu shot but catch the flu before the shot has a chance to work. The flu shot also doesn’t give 100% protection, and there are plenty of other viruses around that cause illnesses similar to the flu, so it’s always possible to get sick even if you get the flu shot. But it’s not the flu shot that makes you sick!

2. Healthy people don’t need the flu shot. I hear this a lot, too. “My child never gets sick.” “We are a healthy family, we don’t need that.” “I’m not worried about getting the flu, we will be fine.” Well, besides the fact that luck only lasts so long and healthy people can get very sick with the flu too, there’s another important point: it’s not just about you. You and your family might weather the flu just fine, but you could easily pass it to others around you — like your friend’s newborn, your grandmother, the child at school on chemotherapy — for whom the flu is extremely dangerous. Vaccination doesn’t just protect you; it protects everyone around you. By getting the flu shot, you can literally save lives.

If you have questions about the flu or flu vaccine, talk to your doctor or visit www.flu.gov. Make your decision based on facts — not myths.

Comments:

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  2. Burmese Days

    This article is so stupid on so many levels. Where to begin?

    Claire McCarthy is a transparent shill for the vaccine industry.

    Look, no responsible person goes near the flu shot and no responsible parent allows their child to have it.

    The members of the vaccine industrial complex just never quit lying.

  3. svfx

    That’s really a good and helpful information,thank you….

  4. Dora Smith

    Here’s some more “mythology” (alias “reality”) to bother you.

    Only the fact that I HAD THE FLU, when I was a small child, 40 years before, saved me from the H1N1 flu in 2009.

    Only the fact that I HAD THE FLU, in the 1980s, saved me from getting alot sicker than I was with the strain of flu they didn’t bother to put in last winter’s flu vaccine! A similar strain was going around at that time, to the strain they left out of last year’s flu shot.

    Both flu strains were descended from earlier strains that I HAD, and STILL had immunity to.

    Immunity from flu vaccine wears off in five months. A flu shot won’t protect you from a flu strain’s descendant you’re going to encounter in twenty or forty years. Getting the flu will.

    Useless when these stupid idiots at CDC don’t even do their job, or a true mutant strain of the sort we all fear suddenly appears as happened in 2009.

    You want to know what else? Remember the killer 1918 flu, that broke out in a community of sod huts in Kansas where pigs and chickens lived with the people? (And I thought only people in China were worthless enough to live like that.) Monster virus came out of nowhere. But like the 2009 flu and every flu virus humanity needs to be very afraid of, it was a hybrid. People throughout the U.S., who HAD THE FLU, the previous winter, were immune to it.

    You know, my boss had his flu shot, and he actually almost died of that flu. He was in the hospital in critical care for days. He was so sick, they actually called in the CDC.

    My boss has to be the only middle aged white man in America who even came down with it – or got very sick. Most white middle class people living in America in 1964 were immune.

    And you know what else. They deliberately make that flu shot just strong enough to keep just 67% of people who get it from getting the flu. I usually get the flu if I don’t get TWO flu shots. And they want people to trust flu shots.

    Mind you, I’m planning to get my second flu shot for the season next weekend. But my sister’s sister in law won’t let her teenagers get flu shots. She thinks nature is the best defense. My own experience from flu strains that weren’t in the flu shot strongly supports her thinking.

  5. Victoria

    Chris,
    The whole medical community is not wrong; the flu shot is not poison. It is designed every year to counteract the strain of flu that is most likely to be the most dangerous that year.
    Reliable studies show that the flu shots save lives. Every year around 300 young children die of the flu, and if everyone not allergic to it got the shot, that number could be greatly reduced.
    Please do not be foolish or believe old wives’ tales. Get your flu shot.

    • Burmese Days

      Victoria is lying. The vaccine industry shills always repeat the talking point “studies show” when in fact there are no reliable studies that show anything of the kind. Vaccine shills loathe specificity.

      The flu shot is a dangerous vaccine. But the flu itself is not dangerous and rarely leads to death. Most flu deaths are actually the result of pneumonia, which is not viral and is treated by antibiotics.

  6. svfx

    Children should be vaccinated every flu season for the best protection against flu. For children who will need two doses of flu vaccine, the first dose should be given as early in the season as possible. For other children, it is good practice to get them vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available, if possible by October. However, getting vaccinated even later can be protective, as long as flu viruses are circulating. While seasonal influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks in January or later. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against influenza virus infection, it is best that people get vaccinated so they are protected before influenza begins spreading in their community.

    • Dora Smith

      You telling me it’s actually standard practice to give some people two doses of flu vaccine? Please share the specifics. How far apart?

      I’ve been figuring about four weeks, like with hepatitis vaccine….

      I know that they have started giving people over 65 a 4x dose, but you have to be 65 – typical of the idiots in the medical community. My 23andMe results show I lack the relatively uncommon mutation that causes some people to actually be good at making antibodies in response to the flu shot, and when I just converted to seronegative against hepatitis B, even though I was vaccinated against it a few years ago for the second time, my doctor told me she has to get vaccinated all over again every couple of years.

      You know, one year, I got my two flu shots before mid fall, and then came down with the flu in March. You know it’s the flu and I was partially immune – my fever was suddenly 102 out of nowhere, I was shivering and shaking like crazy, and I couldn’t stop coughing. 12 hours later my temperature was 99.6 and I had a couple of sniffles. Unfortunately, while coming down with the flu, I had choked on coffee and had a violent laryngospasm – so I ended up seeing the doctor, who put me on antibiotic though we could see it was a virus, and I proved at that moment to be severely allergic to sulfa. You know, WEAK flu vaccine is SUCH a good idea. As long at “the herd” doesn’t get sick …. whatever.

      Flu shot was DELIBERATELY designed to protect 67% of people from getting the flu – if I used the proper term for that, my post would be removed. So there are actual categories of people, besides senior citizens, they think it’s actually a bad idea if that specific person gets the flu?

  7. chris

    Don’t you dare try to inject me with that poison.