JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Flu season begins next month, and doctors say with COVID-19 it’s more important than ever to get the influenza vaccination as soon as possible.
“All of those illnesses that we see in the fall already almost fill our hospitals to capacity to begin with, and then when we add COVID-19 we really are at risk of overflowing and our health care system breaking down,” said Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation and part of the #FluVaxJax campaign officially launching Wednesday in Jacksonville.
The purpose of the initiative is to increase the number of people getting the flu vaccine in order to reduce the number of severe flu patients in local hospitals.
But some say they won’t get the flu vaccine for a variety of reasons. Some believe it doesn’t work while others believe the shot itself will make them sick. To find out what’s true and what’s not, we put common flu vaccine concerns through the News4Jax Trust Index.
To identify fact versus fiction with our Trust Index, we went to two doctors: Dr. Joshi and pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Mobeen Rathore.
Both doctors say the most common comment they hear from patients is: “The flu shot will make me sick.” We mark this on the Trust Index as “not true.”
“The flu vaccine cannot give you influenza. It’s a dead protein so there’s no way it can give you the infection,” Rathore said. Added Dr. Joshi: “There was a study done to compare people given the flu vaccine and placebo and the side effects of having low grade fever, muscle aches, was the same in both groups.” While people can experience side effects from the vaccine, like pain at the injection site and low-grade fever, Joshi said that does not mean they got sick. He said those side effects should go away a day or two after getting the shot.
Another common comment: “I got the flu shot but still got the flu.” Yes, on the Trust Index, that’s “true.”
“People who get the flu vaccine can still get the flu, but it is much less likely to be a complicated disease process if you’ve had the vaccine,” Joshi explained. Joshi said people ages 65 and older who get vaccinated for the flu are 70- to 80-percent less likely to end up in the hospital compared to those who do not get the vaccine. He also said vaccinated children are 72-percent less likely to go to the emergency room.
New this year because of the coronavirus, Rathore said he already has patients saying: “The flu vaccine is linked to COVID-19.” On the Trust Index, we are going to mark that as “not true.”
“I don’t know where these people come up with these ideas. If you get the flu vaccine, you’re going to get an increased risk of getting the coronavirus and you may get sicker with coronavirus — that’s bogus,” Rathore said.
According to Joshi, a published Mayo Clinic study involving adults who received the flu vaccine during the 2019-2020 season found 26 percent were less likely to get COVID-19.
“We don’t really know why that is, but it’s possible that people who are more likely to get vaccinated are more likely to do social distancing and do all the right things. But more than likely the myth that you’re more likely to get COVID-19 is not true,” he said.
Finally, another myth is that people allergic to eggs cannot get a flu vaccine. That used to be true, but now it’s “not true.”
Both Joshi and Rathore said there is now a vaccine available for people with egg allergies. You just need to make sure to speak with your health provider about getting that specific vaccine. You can learn more about that option by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
Asked if there are any medical reasons why someone shouldn’t get a flu vaccine, Rathore replied with a laugh: “Yeah, it hurts a little.”