Updated August 27, 2020.
Every year when flu season begins, rumors begin flying and old myths pop back up. You’ve heard many of them before: “The flu shot gives you the flu” or “Antibiotics will cure you.” This year though, even more misinformation is swirling around the flu season, given it’s overlap with the current COVID-19 pandemic. With so much speculation around COVID-19 and its impact on flu season, we know it may be hard to separate fact from fiction. Here we break down the top myths and misconceptions:
1. The flu shot will protect me against COVID-19.
FICTION. The flu vaccine does not directly protect against COVID-19. However, flu vaccination has many related benefits, including keeping you from getting sick with flu, reducing the severity of your illness if you do get the flu, reducing your risk of hospitalization, and helping protect you from the possibility of contracting flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Because flu and COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms and are hard to distinguish from each other, it is especially important to get a flu shot this year to reduce your risk of the flu. Doing so will also help conserve healthcare resources and lessen the burden on healthcare systems.
2. It’s possible to get COVID-19 and flu at the same time.
FACT. As the flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, it is possible to have both respiratory illnesses at the same time. Public health officials do not yet know how common or likely coinfection is or how dangerous it may be. Getting a flu shot can help prevent you from getting the flu and save you from potentially dealing with two viruses at the same time.
3. Wearing a mask and practicing social distancing will also help slow the spread of the flu.
FACT. Because COVID-19 and the flu are transmitted in similar ways, the same measures we’ve taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 can also protect us against the flu. You can protect yourself and others by wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, and practicing social distancing. These measures have already shown to reduce spread in the Southern Hemisphere, where flu season has started. For more information on flu and COVID-19, see here.
4. If you’re young and healthy, you don’t need the flu shot.
FICTION. The flu does not discriminate — anyone can get it. Having the flu feels miserable — much worse than a common cold — and it can be life-threatening for babies, older adults, and people with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems. The flu shot lowers your risk of getting the flu, makes symptoms less severe if you do get sick, and makes you less contagious to others. If you don’t do it for yourself, consider getting the flu shot to protect those around you, including those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. The CDC estimates that over 34,200 people in the U.S. died during the 2018-2019 flu season. If enough of us (including healthy people) get the flu shot, we can build what’s called herd immunity, which reduces the risk for everyone (even those who aren’t vaccinated) and prevents outbreaks.
5. Children need a special flu shot.
FICTION. Starting at 6 months of age, children are able to get the seasonal flu shot. Some children between 6 months and 8 years will need 2 doses of the flu vaccine to be protected. If it is the first time your child is receiving the flu vaccine or your child has only received one flu vaccine in the past, he or she will need 2 doses of the vaccine this season. It is best to begin with the first dose as early as possible. The second dose should be given at least 28 days after the first dose.
While many children prefer the needle-less, nasal spray vaccine option, it is not for everyone. By having a conversation with your child’s doctor, you can work together to find the right option for your child.
6. You don’t need a flu shot if you’ve gotten one in the past.
FICTION. According to the CDC, every person over the age of 6 months should receive a flu shot annually. Different strains of the flu virus are prevalent each year, so if you haven’t been vaccinated against one of this season’s common strains, you’re vulnerable to them.
7. You need antibiotics to recover from the flu.
FICTION. Antibiotics are used to treat infectious diseases caused by bacteria. Influenza is a virus, so no amount of antibiotics will help you recover. Antivirals can provide some help once you’ve been diagnosed, but they’re most effective when taken within 48 hours of symptoms appearing. They’re usually indicated for high-risk patients and aren’t necessary to recover from the flu if you are generally healthy. Often, the best way to feel better is to treat your symptoms and support your immune system.
8. The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the flu.
FACT. The flu shot is one of the most effective ways to ward off influenza. To avoid contracting or spreading the flu, use common-sense tactics: wear your mask when in close contact with others, avoid spending time around sick people, wash your hands with soap and water regularly, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, disinfect surfaces and objects used frequently, and stay home from work if you are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
If you’re concerned that you might have the flu, use Treat Me Now on the One Medical app to get care without leaving the house. When you have the flu — or even just a cold — rest is your best medicine, but it is important to check in with your primary care provider as COVID-19 can present with the same symptoms.
9. The flu shot can give you the flu.
FICTION. Contrary to popular belief, the flu shot cannot make you catch the flu. Why? Because the version of the influenza virus in the vaccine is either inactivated (meaning it is no longer infectious) or not the virus at all (instead, it’s a substance designed to trick your body into thinking it’s the flu).
Still, you could feel a little under the weather after receiving the flu shot because it activates your immune system. It is possible to have mild side effects, such as a headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches, or feel soreness, redness, or swelling near the injection site. These are uncommon but normal side effects and should subside on their own within a day. If your symptoms persist or are severe, contact your primary care team and they will be happy to help assess you further.
10. Pregnant women need a special flu shot.
FICTION. According to the CDC, all flu vaccinations are safe for pregnant women, even those containing preservatives. The CDC also recommends that all pregnant women receive a flu shot to protect both mother and baby from potential complications. If you do feel more comfortable with a preservative-free flu shot, your local One Medical office will have those available for you.
11. I should wait until flu season peaks to get vaccinated.
FICTION. It’s important to protect yourself against the flu before outbreaks begin and it takes two weeks after getting the shot for your body to develop immunity to the virus. The first seasonal flu outbreaks can occur as early as October, so it’s best to get your flu shot earlier, but you can do it any time during the season.
For older people, immunity against the flu virus can decline more quickly than it does in younger people. The CDC recommends that people 65+ get the high-dose vaccine (to trigger a stronger immune response that will last all season) to ensure they stay safe all flu season long. If you need the high-dose flu shot, One Medical has you covered.
12. Flu shots are expensive.
FICTION. Most health insurance plans will cover your flu shot as a preventive service. If your flu shot isn’t covered by insurance, though, most clinics offer affordable rates. At One Medical, the out-of-pocket cost for a standard, preservative-free flu shot is $45.
13. It’s too late to get my flu shot.
FICTION. While we recommend coming in as soon as possible, it’s still beneficial to get your flu shot later in the season. The flu virus may remain in circulation as late as May and the flu shot can protect you.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.