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Whenever we think about common minor ailments, cough and flu would definitely be at the top of our head. In Malaysia where it is naturally summer all year round, flu cases are seen exceptionally higher during the rainy season between December and March as well as between May and August in our country. However, it has been reported that the annual flu vaccine rate in Malaysia is still lower than it should be. This can be attributed to the typical misconceptions and misinformation surrounding flu vaccine that cause many to skip their annual flu shot. As a result, they are more prone to contact and spread the virus.
It is thus crucial for us to address these common myths so more or most can be aware of the importance of getting their annual shot to not only protect themselves but the community at large given that flu is a vaccine-preventable illness.
Fact: No, you will not catch the flu from the vaccine. The flu shot contains an inactivated virus that doesn’t have the ability to transmit the influenza infection. Nonetheless, it is expected that some would experience some symptoms related to the flu virus such as runny nose, slight feverish, body ache etc which are all normal reactions of the immune system to the vaccine and would generally only last a day or two.
The flu vaccine normally takes about 2 weeks for its full protective effect. It is no wonder that people who get sick after receiving the flu vaccine would associate their sickness to the vaccine. Those who believe they came down with the flu after getting vaccines are most likely suffering from an unrelated upper-respiratory sickness, got the flu from a different influenza strain (PS: influenza vaccine is specific to its strain and does not offer coverage for other flu viruses) or were already infected with the flu before they were vaccinated. Hence it is important that we know how the flu vaccines work and not let misconceptions cloud our decision on being vaccinated.
Fact: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 6 months and older to get their immune system boosted with influenza vaccination against the flu. This is because influenza is more serious than the common cold which may lead to serious illnesses such as pneumonia, missed work due to the disturbing symptoms or even hospitalization for those with weaker immune systems (transplant patients, chronic diseases patients etc). Besides, healthy people may also spread the virus to those around them, especially those who are particularly susceptible such as newborn babies, pregnant mothers, senior citizens and people whose immune system is already too weak to fight off the infection.
It is thus apparent that getting your annual flu shot is the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones.
Fact: Infinite number of flu viruses are found circulating in our air 24/7 which explains why some may still get the flu despite being vaccinated. Together with the fact that the flu vaccines only take 2 weeks to show its full protective effect, it is expected that you may still suffer flu-like symptoms from the flu within 2 weeks post-vaccination. By being vaccinated, one tends to experience milder symptoms and will probably recover quicker than those who weren’t vaccinated since the vaccination reduces the disease severity by enhancing our immune system in combating the virus.
Every vaccine approved by the FDA for public use is sufficiently tested and evaluated on its efficacy, safety and quality and this includes the flu vaccine. As a matter of fact, the flu shot has one of the best safety profiles than other vaccines with the majority of its side effects being soreness and tenderness at the site of injection that will eventually go away in a matter of days.
Fact: To protect yourself and others from the flu, it is strongly encouraged that you get the vaccine every year without fail. This is because the influenza virus mutates each year and this would cause the vaccine you obtained a year ago to be less effective.
In addition, your body’s immune protection achieved through the flu vaccine declines over time and studies repeatedly show that a yearly vaccination best protects against the flu. Therefore, getting vaccinated on an annual basis can help us boost our immunity to fight against influenza, especially beneficial in cases of an unprecedented outbreak.
Fact: Being one of the most vulnerable populations, all pregnant mothers are urged to be vaccinated against the flu since they have a higher risk for serious complications from influenza than other women of reproductive age. Many studies have been done for the flu shot in pregnant women and it is safe to say the inactivated flu vaccine is safe to be administered at any stage of pregnancy. Moreover, the flu shot also offers protection to the babies of expecting mothers from the flu for a few months after delivery. This is worth highlighting because infants younger than 6 months old are not recommended to get flu shots of their own due to the potential side effects.
While vaccination plays a vital role in controlling the spread of influenza and acts as an excellent source of protection, there are still some measures we can take to minimize the risk of infection as much as possible. These include:
Maintain hygiene at all times
Avoid going out when you’re sick or wear a face mask whenever you show respiratory diseases symptoms (cold, runny/blocked nose, cough)
Cover your nose and/or mouth when sneezing/coughing to prevent spreading the virus to others
Wash your hands before and after food or going the toilet
This article is written by Janelle Leong, Bpharm(Hons)(DOC2US),
reviewed by Dr. Muhamad Syaqir bin Shukri, MBBS
5 myths about the flu vaccine - WHO. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/spotlight/influenza-are-we-ready/5-myths-about-the-flu-vaccine. Accessed on 4th December 2022
Top 6 Flu Myths Debunked - UCSF Health. Available at: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/top-seven-flu-myths-debunked. Accessed on 4th December 2022
Common Flu Myths Debunked - Atlantic Health Partners. Available at: https://www.atlantichealthpartners.com/immunization-insights-1/6-common-flu-myths-debunked. Accessed on 4th December 2022
Top 8 Facts About The Flu Vaccine - Healthy Living. Available at: https://blog.bonsecours.com/healthy/top-flu-vaccine-facts/. Accessed on 4th December 2022
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