November 8, 2023

A Vanderbilt expert sheds light on the myths surrounding the flu shot, and explains why there’s really no excuse not to get yours this year.

This flu season there are plenty of reasons to get your flu shot.

“There will be a triple season — a ‘tripledemic,’ someone called it, as the flu, COVID-19 and RSV will be circulating this winter,” said infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Therefore, it’s more important than ever that we all get ourselves vaccinated against influenza.”

“There will be a triple season — a ‘tripledemic,’ someone called it, as the flu, COVID-19 and RSV will be circulating this winter.”

Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist, notes that there are both personal and community reasons to get a flu shot. On the personal side, the reasons are obvious: You’ll be protecting yourself and your family from a virus that can cause serious illness. On the community side, you’ll be protecting those who are most vulnerable — such as infants under 6 months who are too young to be vaccinated and those who are at greatest risk for serious complications from the flu, including adults over 65, people with compromised immune systems and certain medical conditions.

Here, Schaffner addresses several misconceptions people might have regarding vaccinations — especially this year, due to the “tripledemic” we’re facing together.

Myth: The flu vaccine isn’t very effective.

Reality: “A lot of people say, ‘It’s not that great of a vaccine. Why should I bother getting it?’” Schaffner said. “Let’s all acknowledge that it’s a good, but not perfect vaccine — but it is a good vaccine. And as a good vaccine, it prevents many thousands of infections each year. Here’s what’s underappreciated: Suppose you get vaccinated, and then you genuinely do get the flu a month later. What people don’t understand is that, having been vaccinated, your flu illness is going to be less severe. You’re much less likely to seek medical care, go to the emergency room or be admitted to the hospital. And frankly, you’re much less likely to die. What’s wrong with that?”

Myth: You can get the flu from the flu shot.

Reality: “We give this vaccine in the multi-millions of doses each year around the world,” Schaffner said. “You cannot — and let me say this again — you cannot get flu from the flu vaccine. That’s baloney. You will get a bit of a sore arm, that’s true, and a few people might get a degree of fever, but that’s not flu — that’s just your body working on the vaccine, starting to make your protection.”

Myth: Only children and the elderly need flu shots.

Reality: “The recommendations couldn’t be simpler: If you’re older than 6 months of age, you should be vaccinated,” Schaffner said. “But let’s put some emphasis on older people; people with any underlying chronic illness like lung disease, diabetes, heart disease, and if you’re pregnant. Vaccinating during pregnancy protects both the mom and the newborn baby until they can get vaccinated at 6 months old.”

But even if you’re not at risk, you should still do your part to keep those who are at risk safe. “By getting vaccinated against flu, our ability to be a ‘dreaded spreader’ — someone who transmits the virus to others — is substantially diminished,” Schaffner said.

Myth: Getting a flu shot is a hassle.

Reality: “Your local health department may be offering a flu shot clinic, even a drive-through flu shot clinic where you don’t have to leave your car,” Schaffner said. “Many pharmacies and doctors offices have the flu shot available without an appointment. Often, you can just walk in, but if you’re really concerned about making the most of your time, you can call ahead of time.”

Myth: You shouldn’t get more than one vaccine at once.

Reality: “The truth is you can get vaccinated for the flu, RSV and COVID-19 this season,” Schaffner said. “If you are so inclined, you can even get more than one vaccine at the same time.”

Care closer to home

This year, flu shots are more important than ever, and getting them has never been easier. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about the flu vaccine, and if you need one for yourself, find locations here.

Learn More