Some health issues are unique to seasons. Respiratory infections peak in the rainy season and in the late winter in India. The flu is often behind such infections. Moreover, because the viruses that cause the flu constantly change, the best way to protect yourself is a flu shot.
But low awareness and misconceptions can prevent people from getting the shot. A survey conducted by Abbott along with IQVIA across 8 cities in India showed that 58% of people were unaware of virus strains causing influenza and swine flu. Moreover, 40% of those surveyed did not take flu seriously, even though flu cases are growing. Among the people at high-risk surveyed, 37% of pregnant women did not get a flu vaccination, even though their doctor recommended it.
Myths surrounding flu shots can be misleading, and debunking them is the key to ensuring more people are protected.
Myth 1: Getting the flu shot will give you the flu
The flu shot cannot give you the flu. However, after getting a flu shot, some people may have soreness at the site of injection and even a mild fever, but that is just the result of the body building an immune response to the vaccine – exactly what the body is supposed to be doing.
Myth 2: Influenza is not that serious, so it isn’t necessary to get the vaccine
The National Center of Disease Control estimates that influenza cases have increased 5-fold in India from 5,044 in 2012 to 26,047 in 2019 alone (till June 2019). Correspondingly, the number of deaths attributable to influenza has more than doubled from 405 in 2012 to 1,072 in 2019. This implies that influenza morbidity and mortality are growing at a rate exceeding 15% per annum.
Even though you may think you feel healthy and that getting the flu virus won’t harm your health in the long run, it’s important to remember that people you may come in contact with daily are at risk too – the elderly, children, parents of children and pregnant women could be put at risk of getting the flu virus from you. Educating yourself about getting the flu shot isn’t just for your personal benefit, it’s for everyone around you.
Myth 3: You don’t need a flu shot if you had one last year
You need to be vaccinated every year for two very important reasons:
First, from year-to-year and place-to-place, the flu virus is constantly changing. As strains of the flu virus change, last year’s flu shot may not be prepared to combat this season’s common flu viruses.
Second, while your seasonal flu shot should protect you throughout flu season, the antibodies your body produces to protect you from the flu virus after receiving the vaccine decline over time. Getting a flu shot every year can help keep you protected against the flu year-after-year.
Myth 4: Flu shots are dangerous for children
FFlu vaccines have a good safety record and there is extensive research supporting the safety of flu vaccines. Getting vaccinated is the best way to reduce your chance of getting the flu and spreading it to others. Having said that, children might suffer from common side effects of a shot, such as headaches, soreness, fever etc.
Myth 5: The flu shot makes you more susceptible to other respiratory viruses
Based on current research, the evidence suggests that the flu vaccine does not make people more susceptible to other respiratory infections.
Myth 6: It’s better for the body to build immunity “naturally” by getting influenza
Not getting a flu shot means taking a chance and getting exposed to the risk of complications and infections. On the other hand, while vaccines cause an immune response in the body, which is similar to the response produced by a natural infection, they do not put a person at risk of potential complications and hence can be considered as a better option. Moreover, leaving a person or child to develop natural immunity can be dangerous. For example, polio infection can cause permanent paralysis.
According to Dr. Srinivas Kasi, a leading Pediatrician from Bangalore, “From 2012-2019, the number of flu cases has increased by 10% per annum in Karnataka and deaths due to influenza have nearly doubled. In this year alone, till June, 1730 cases have been recorded. Given that seasonal outbreaks of flu are common, it is advisable to be vaccinated prior to the monsoons, so that the effects last for the entire high-risk time period through winter. There are four categories of people who are considered to be at higher risk, hence strongly advised to be immunized – pregnant women, young children below the age of 5 years, elderly people, and those with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, ischemic heart disease to name a few.” He also added, “It is important to understand and review both positives and negatives in making an informed decision.”
Commenting on the urgent need to fight the flu, Dr. Srirupa Das, Director – Medical Affairs at Abbott, said, “According to the recent National Family Health Survey, as many as 72.5% of children were not getting immunized in the age group of 12 to 23 months which is considered an important period in a child’s development and immunity-building. Flu is preventable. Prevention is simpler and a better option, than having to suffer the anxiety and discomfort of illness. Everyone should speak to their doctor to check if they should get a flu shot.”