Fact or Fiction? The Truth About the Flu Vaccine.

Aaron S. Weinberg MD, MPhil
October 22, 2021
4 mins

Fiction: “The flu shot gave me the flu.”

FACT! You can’t get the flu from the vaccine.

While it’s true you can feel ill after getting the flu vaccine, you didn’t get the flu from the vaccine. The most likely reason for aches and mild symptoms after receiving a flu shot is that the flu vaccine worked: it stimulates the immune system to make the appropriate antibodies and activates T-cell response, causing a bit of inflammation.

Fiction: “The flu goes away on its own, so I don’t need to do anything about it.”

FACT! Always contact your doctor if you have flu-like symptoms.

Although it’s true you can recover on your own, medical treatment may accelerate symptom improvement and helps prevent serious life-threatening complications and hospitalization (the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] estimates that the flu has resulted in 710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 to 52,000 deaths annually between 2010 and 2020). Also, getting a correct diagnosis helps you protect others from contracting the flu.

Fiction: “I got the flu shot last year and still got the flu, so I know the vaccine doesn’t work on me.”

FACT! The vaccine is different every year, and it doesn’t cover every single strain.

The flu vaccine changes because the flu virus changes from year to year. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates which strains are going to be the worst each year and creates vaccines based on those estimates. The flu shot can make your flu symptoms less severe and decrease the risk of severe disease and hospitalization even if it is not the exact same strain, because it offers cross-protection.

Fiction: “I’ve never had the flu so I don’t need the shot.”

FACT! Anyone can get the flu, at any time.

Saying you have never had the flu so you don’t need the flu shot is like saying you’ve never been in a car accident so you don’t need a seatbelt. If you’re vaccinated, you are 40 to 60 percent less likely to get the flu altogether.

Also keep in mind that, according to the CDC, the flu vaccination is an important preventive tool for people with certain chronic health conditions. It has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, and flu vaccination can reduce the risk of a flu-related worsening of chronic lung disease. Among people with diabetes and chronic lung disease, flu vaccination also has been shown in separate studies to be associated with reduced hospitalizations from a worsening of their chronic condition.

Flu vaccination can be life-saving for children — a 2017 study showed that vaccination can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from the flu. In addition, a number of studies have shown that in addition to helping to protect pregnant people from the flu, a flu vaccine given during pregnancy helps protect the baby from the flu for several months after birth, when they are too young to be vaccinated.

Ready to take your shot? Make an appointment with a healthcare provider via the Carbon Health app or by visiting carbonhealth.com.

Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.

Aaron S. Weinberg MD, MPhil

Aaron S. Weinberg, MD, MPhil, is Director of Program Development at Carbon Health and triple board-certified in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Internal Medicine.