Five Myths About Flu Shots

Understanding the truth about the flu vaccine will help you make the best decisions for your health.

By Pedro Zavala, MD
Resident, Baylor College of Medicine
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

Ruchi Kaushik, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine
Medical Director, ComP-CaN (Comprehensive Peds for Complex Needs)
Medical Director, Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Blog

Winter is here and with it comes the beginning of flu season. Every fall people across the U.S. hear the same thing, “It’s flu season; get your vaccine,” and despite health care providers recommendations, every year there are people who opt out. My intent is to bust the most common myths about the flu vaccine so more people know the truth based on evidence-based research. Here we go!

Myth #1:  The flu vaccine gives you the flu.
This is probably the biggest of them all. The flu vaccine does not give you the flu. Because the flu vaccine is made of a killed or inactive flu virus, it cannot cause infection. If you get sick after the flu vaccine, it is either your body’s immune response to the vaccine or symptoms of another virus (that you probably picked up when you went to the doctor!).

Myth #2:  I’m healthy, so I do not need the flu vaccine every year.
The CDC currently recommends everyone over the age of six months get the flu vaccine every year. Even healthy people should get it.  Because your immunity decreases over the 12 months since your last flu vaccine, yearly vaccination gives you the best protection. The flu virus mutates every year so yearly flu vaccine protects you against the strains that are more likely to cause infection this season.

Myth #3:  I can deal with the flu; it is just a bad cold.
Some of the symptoms of the flu and a cold are the same, however, every year there are many people hospitalized and even deaths that occur due to the flu. In the U.S., an estimated 36,000 deaths occur yearly with more than 200,000 hospitalizations.  Classic flu symptoms include fever up to 104 degrees for five to seven days, runny nose, cough, and body aches (like you got “hit by a bus” body aches).

Myth #4:  I did not get the flu vaccine early, now it is too late.
It is never too late to get the flu vaccine. Every year flu infections have different patterns in circulation. The peak for flu disease is usually between December and March, but can even go until May.  Also, if you do get the flu, you should still get the shot because there are two types, A and B, and it would be really miserable to get both flu A and B in the same season.

Myth #5:  If I get the flu, I need antibiotics
Antibiotics are intended for bacterial infections. Since the flu is a viral infection, there is nothing the antibiotic will do for it.  However, having the flu increases your risk of a secondary bacterial infection such as ear infection, sinus infection, and pneumonia.  For this reason, it is wise to seek medical attention if your flu symptoms are worsening over time or not improving.

I hope this dispels common myths about the flu.  It is never too late to get the flu vaccine for you and your children, so please visit your closest health provider or pharmacy to receive this season’s flu vaccine. If you need to identify a pediatrician for your child, please visit