Ask Your Pharmacist

November 25, 2019
Q:

Last year, I got the flu shot and I got sick anyway. I’ve read online that the vaccine can give people the flu. Is that true?

A:

That’s most definitely not true. Thanks for the question though. I get that question a lot.

While vaccinations carry some risks, getting your flu shot and washing your hands frequently is the best defense against getting influenza. Unfortunately, many myths exist about flu shots that deter people from getting vaccinated. Let’s dispel some common ones:

Myth #1: The flu shot will give you the flu.

You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. Influenza vaccines cannot cause influenza because the viruses in the vaccines are not active.

Myth #2: The flu shot doesn’t really work anyway.

There are many reasons why some people get sick during flu season even though they had a flu shot. Often, they become ill from other viruses such as rhinoviruses that cause symptoms similar to flu, or they may have been exposed to the flu shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after the vaccination that it takes the body to develop an immune response. It’s also important to remember that the effectiveness of the vaccine varies from season to season. It depends on how well the vaccine matches with the circulating flu viruses, as well as the health and age of the person getting the flu shot. Some people may experience flu like symptoms despite getting vaccinated because they may have been exposed to a flu virus that is different from the ones the vaccine is designed to protect against that year.

Myth #3: Flu shots cause serious reactions in many people.

Most people have either no side effects or mild effects such as soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site. I often recommend common over-the-counter products like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for these reactions. The flu shot has been administered routinely in Canada since 1946. Serious reactions are rare.

Myth #4: I don’t need the flu shot because I am healthy.

Even healthy individuals who aren’t in any of the high-risk categories should get flu shots. They may still get the flu, which will make them feel pretty awful. However more importantly, they risk passing it on to children, seniors or those who are chronically ill. It’s these individuals who are more at risk for developing serious complications from influenza. Getting a flu shot helps protect your family, friends and colleagues.

In the end, you must make your own informed decision after talking to your pharmacist, doctor or other healthcare professional. Keep in mind though that influenza is a serious infection. The flu is among the ten leading causes of death in Canada. Each year, the flu causes an estimated 3,500 deaths and 12,200 hospital stays. Immunization is one of the best defenses against the flu.

Jared Mactavish (BSc., Pharm) is a pharmacist at Guardian Pharmacy in Hampton and St. Stephen. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.