Frequently Asked Questions about the Flu Shot!

We’re happy to share a special guest post from Primary Care’s Medical Director, Dr. Marjorie Seidenfeld:

Have you been contemplating getting the flu shot, but having hesitation? Maybe you heard about a friend who told you they got sick afterward? Maybe you have an allergy to eggs and have been told you shouldn’t get the flu shot? Let’s put out all the rumors and discuss whether or not they’re true…

Rumor: You can get sick after getting the flu shot.
Reality: Your arm may be a little sore for a day or two. You might even feel a little achy about a week after getting the flu shot. But you do NOT get the flu from the flu shot. Here at Barnard (and actually everywhere starting this year), we only use the inactivated flu shot, made from only parts of the virus, not the whole or live virus. It has enough of the virus to trigger immunity but it does not have enough to cause disease (it’s not “alive” so it can’t actually “infect” and replicate inside you). So it’s impossible to get the flu from the vaccine.

Rumor: I have never had the flu so I’m probably already immune.
Reality: No one is immune to the flu. You may have just been lucky so far – but luck runs out! And anyone can catch the flu. And the flu is no picnic. Symptoms of the flu include fever, muscle aches, cough, sore throat, congestion, and headache and the symptoms can last a week to 10 days. The problem is also that it can make you susceptible to pneumonia, encephalitis and viral meningitis. People die each year from complications of the flu. So it’s really serious, especially if you have an underlying chronic illness, like asthma or diabetes, or if you’re taking medication that suppresses your immune system (or if you have a roommate who does!). Remember, by virtue of the fact that you are in a college environment, you are living in close proximity to a lot of other people, and are exposed to a lot of what they are exposed to. It’s easy to catch whatever is “going around.” If the flu comes around, it could wind up in your airway. In addition, even if you catch a flu subtype that is not covered by the flu vaccine, and you do end up getting the flu, if you have had the flu shot you will likely get a milder version of that flu than you would have if you did not have the shot, because of partial immunity.

Rumor: There is mercury in the flu vaccine.
Reality: There is no mercury in the single-dose flu vaccine used at the Primary Care Health Service.

Rumor: I have an egg allergy – I can’t get the flu vaccine.
Reality: Because the virus is incubated in chick embryos prior to being inactivated in the preparation for the flu shot, there has been a concern for those with egg allergy having a reaction to the flu vaccine. However, because of the higher risk of people with allergies getting the flu itself and becoming much sicker, further testing in those with egg allergies, including those with anaphylactic (very severe, including airway problems) reactions, has shown that flu shots can safely be given to those people as well. Therefore, egg allergy has been removed as an obstacle to getting the flu shot.

Rumor: I can just take good care of myself and protect myself from the flu.
Reality: This helps, for sure. Getting sleep, eating a balanced diet, getting exercise, and drinking plenty of fluids are all important elements of taking care of yourself. Also, I encourage everyone to avoid sharing any food or drinks – this can minimize your exposure to other people’s germs as well. But the single most effective way to avoid the flu is still getting the flu shot each year. It’s recommended to get it in the fall, but it’s recommended to get it anytime until April. We often see spikes in cases in January and February (sometimes even as late as March) and if you’re planning to travel over Spring break, make sure you have it before then.

Keep yourself healthy and get the flu shot! It’s a minimal inconvenience for a savings from major illness!

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