HCN News & Notes

American Family Care Physician Separates Flu Shot Facts from Myths

WEST SPRINGFIELD — October marks the start of flu season, and the experts at American Family Care (AFC) in Springfield and West Springfield want residents to understand the facts about flu and the flu vaccine so they can protect themselves.

“There are two key things people can do to reduce their risk of getting the flu: getting the flu shot and frequent, thorough handwashing,” said Dr. Vincent Meoli, AFC’s regional medical director for Massachusetts. “Unfortunately, people still have some misinformation about the flu shot that may unnecessarily deter them from seeking its protection.”

The primary misconception that people often have is that the flu shot can cause the flu, which is not the case.

“The vaccine contains an inactivated virus, so it can’t give you the flu,” Meoli said. “Some people experience side effects for a day or two, such as soreness at the injection site, low-grade fever, and body aches. It’s important to remember, however, that it takes up to two weeks after the vaccine for your body to develop antibody protection, during which time you are still vulnerable. In addition, each year’s flu vaccine protects only against the four strains predicted to be the most active each year, so it’s still possible to get a different strain of the flu.”

Meoli said there are also misconceptions about who should get the flu shot, but that it’s recommended for almost everyone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that those who should not get the flu vaccine include babies under 6 months old, people who are allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, and those who have had previous allergic reactions to the shot. Since the 2018-19 season, there are no longer restrictions for people with egg allergies.

“We advise talking to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns,” Meoli said. “Generally speaking, we recommend the flu shot for the majority of people, including babies starting at age 6 months and women who are pregnant. And October is an ideal time to get the vaccine before flu season ramps up in earnest.”

The final myth Meoli wants to dispel is around the seriousness of the flu. “Some people think that getting the flu is no big deal, but that is far from the case, especially for young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions. Even healthy people who get the flu are at risk for complications, hospitalization, or death. Beyond protecting yourself, the flu vaccine helps keep you from spreading the illness to others and reduces the burden on the healthcare system overall.”