Getting your seasonal flu vaccine is as important as ever, especially considering 2020’s shocking start with COVID-19.
Health authorities and GPs are imploring all of us to protect ourselves against the influenza virus. The thought of anybody getting both diseases this season sends shivers down my spine.
This year alone, over 20,000 Australians have so far contracted the flu.
In light of our current situation in Australia, I’d like to address the following myths in the hope more people get to their flu shot as soon as possible.
- I always get the flu after getting vaccinated.
- I’ve had the flu many times – it’s no biggie.
- Flu vaccines aren’t safe for pregnant women or kids.
- The local pharmacy is as good as my GP clinic for getting flu shots.
- The influenza virus doesn’t spread as easily as COVID-19.
Myth: I Always Get the Flu After Getting Vaccinated
This is 100%, absolutely, hands-down impossible.
The flu vaccine doesn’t contain live influenza virus, only tiny fragments of the inactive virus’ surface protein. These fragments allow your immune system to identify the virus. Your body then gets signalled to produce antibodies to protect you from the flu.
You may be among the 5% of people who feel a bit unwell after getting the vaccine, but it’s definitely not the flu. This reaction is just your immune system kicking-in and learning what the influenza virus looks like. It’s your body preparing for battle!
It goes away after a day or two, leaving your system well-equipped to fight off the virus.
Myth: I’ve Had the Flu Many Times – It’s No Big Deal
People frequently mistake a common cold for the full-blown flu. Getting a cold many times throughout your life is normal. However, most of us get the influenza virus very occasionally.
Completely different viruses cause each illness.
I tell patients they’ll certainly know if they’re hit with the flu. High fevers, severe body aches, headaches and intense fatigue are reliable indicators. In severe cases, the flu can send you to hospital with bacterial infections and pneumonia.
Runny noses, sneezing and congestion are good indicators it’s just a cold. You rarely experience these symptoms if you have the flu.
Myth: The Flu Vaccine Isn’t Safe for Pregnant Women or Kids
Getting a flu shot is perfectly safe for pregnant women, children and the elderly. In fact, it’s vital these high-risk groups get vaccinated as they’re more likely to experience severe influenza symptoms.
Flu shots are completely free for:
- kids aged six months to five years old;
- 65+ year olds;
- people six months or older with particular medical conditions. These conditions include heart disease, severe asthma, kidney disease, low immunity and diabetes;
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged over six months; and
- pregnant women.
Myth: The Local Pharmacy is as Good as My GP for Flu Shots
Pharmacists are now permitted to administer the flu shot. However, you’re much better off visiting your GP clinic.
It’s more likely your GP or practice nurse will insist you hang around for 15 minutes after your immunisation. This is to ensure you’re not one of the unlucky few who experience anaphylactic reactions to vaccines.
Oddly, pharmacy chains are suggesting you get your flu shot as early as March each year. The problem with this is that a March flu-shot will only protect you for four months – until the end of June. The peak flu season is in full effect until at least the end of August.
As part of your complete healthcare, a visit to your GP clinic also provides an opportunity to have you and your family’s immunisation histories reviewed to get all vaccines up to date.
Myth: The Influenza Virus Doesn’t Spread as Easily as COVID-19
While each day we’re still learning more about COVID-19, it’s wrong to assume the flu doesn’t spread as easily.
The flu passes from one person to the next in a similar manner to COVID-19, namely through airborne droplets. These droplets can result from coughing, sneezing or merely talking.
Another person who’s 1.5 or less metres away can inhale infected droplets into their lungs.
Similar to what we know about limiting COVID-19 spreading, here are some infection and disease control tips for the flu:
- always cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing;
- wash your hand regularly, especially after blowing your nose or being out in public;
- avoid touching your face as much as practical, and
- stay home if sick and avoid being in contact with others.