By Audrey Landers, Intern
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 59% of children and 43.3% of adults received the flu shot for the 2016-2017 flu season. Vaccination Coverage has risen steadily over the past seven years and in order to continue that trend, it is important to vaccinate as many people as possible. While many people are easily persuaded, there are unfortunately many people who will refuse due to a misunderstanding or even fear of the influenza vaccine, as well as vaccines in general. In order to make a strong vaccine recommendation this season, it is important to know some of the most common myths surrounding the flu shot, and how to approach them with your patients.
Myth 1: The flu shot has the flu in it, it will make me sick!
This common fear is rooted in the knowledge that the influenza virus is used to create vaccines, however this is only a half-truth. Explaining the difference between the active influenza virus that causes illness and the inactive virus used in the vaccine may help to change their minds. You can also explain that the vaccine typically takes two weeks to become fully active, meaning it is still possible to get the flu during that two-week period. As Jennifer Searfoss, Founder of SCG Health puts it: “You don’t get the flu from the flu shot, you get it from all the sick people waiting to get the shot.”
Myth 2: It’s already November, so it’s too late for me to get vaccinated.
While November may seem late to get the flu shot, the truth is that it may be the perfect time. The influenza vaccine typically takes two weeks to become fully active so getting vaccinated in November means it will be effective just in time for the peak of the flu season in January. Even if they don’t get the vaccine until much later, the flu season is longer than many people realize. The flu season can last until May so it is never too late to get your flu shot.
Myth 3: I already got my flu shot last year so I don’t need to get another one.
This misconception may be caused by the fact that other vaccinations are typically long-lasting with no need for a new one each year. Unlike diseases like measles and whooping cough, the influenza virus changes at an extremely fast rate, meaning that new strains may be prominent each year. Even if the strain prominence doesn’t change from one year to another, the CDC still recommends that the flu vaccine be received every year in order to ensure that the immune system can provide the best defense against the flu.
Myth 4: The flu isn’t even that bad!
Too many patients underestimate the severity of the flu. The truth is that influenza can be a fast-acting and deadly disease. Every year, an estimated 50,000 people die due to influenza or complications relating to the virus, with as many as 700,000 people being hospitalized.
By pointing out the danger of not only the disease itself but also the possible complications, you may be able to sway patients who believe the flu is something they can just “get over” with some chicken noodle soup and bed rest.
Myth 5: Vaccines are dangerous!
Instead of focusing on the safety of the vaccine itself, one study suggests that discussing the severity of the illness may be more effective in changing this sort of patient’s mind. Because many of these patients develop their belief by reading heart wrenching “horror-stories” about vaccines that circulate on social media, one way to combat their attitude may be to present your own horror story about the disease the vaccine prevents. Many anecdotal stories of changing a patient’s mind suggest listening to concerns without judgement while maintaining that vaccination is the way to go.
This blog post was written as part of the CDC’s blog-a-thon to spread influenza vaccine awareness. To learn more about current influenza vaccine recommendations, you can check out our previous post or head over to the CDC’s website. We’ve also written about how to avoid the flu in the workplace as part of the blog-a-thon.
Keep an eye out for the #FluStory Twitter storm on December 6 and be sure to share your #FluStory to help spread awareness.