“The last time I got the flu shot, I got sick!” I have heard that phrase too many times to count and have explained over and over that you can’t get sick from just receiving the vaccine. Let me explain why you won’t get sick, the types of vaccines available this year, and when you should get yours.
Are you sure I can’t get the flu?
Yes. I bet we all know someone who refuses to get the flu shot because they say they’ve gotten sick from it in the past. Let me reiterate – the flu shot cannot cause the flu illness. The viruses contained in flu vaccines are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause you to get sick. However, it is possible for you to still fall ill. Here’s why:
- It takes your body two weeks to gain protection after receiving the flu shot. So if you are exposed to the flu virus before or during the two weeks post-vaccine, you may fall ill.
- Because the vaccine protects against the flu virus only, you could get sick from other non-flu viruses that are common during the flu season and often have flu-like symptoms.
- The flu vaccine protects against at least three strains (some 2013-2014 doses protect against four) of the flu that research suggests will be the most common this year. You could get the flu if you are infected with a strain that is not included in the vaccine.
In some cases, individuals who receive the shot still get the flu. Protection can vary widely and depends on your age and health. However, the vaccine is still the best way to prevent the flu.
Shot or Spray?
When you receive your flu vaccine, you’ll likely get a shot. However, there are different types of vaccines available.
There are three flu shots being produced.
- The regular seasonal flu shot is injected into muscle.
- A high-dose vaccine for people 65 and older which also is intramuscular.
- An intra-dermal vaccine for people 18 to 64 years of age which is injected with a needle into the skin.
The nasal-spray flu vaccine is made with a live, weakened set of flu viruses that is given as a nasal spray. The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine do not cause the flu. This is used in healthy people 2 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
When Should I Get Mine?
Because it takes two weeks for your body to build resistance to the flu after receiving the vaccine, it’s important to get your shot as soon as it’s available and ideally before October. However, it’s most important that you receive your vaccine – no matter how far into the flu season we are.
The flu viruses are very contagious and are spread by people when they sneeze, cough or even talk with those around them. Even though someone might not feel sick yet, they can pass the virus a day before they begin feeling ill and for another seven days.
To protect your health and the health of those around you, take the time to get your flu shot. Talk to your primary care provider today.
Gregory Sweat, MD, is the Medical Director of the Shawnee Mission Physicians Group and practices Family Medicine at Shawnee Mission Primary Care - Prairie View Medical Building.