Ocean County Health Department: ‘Just the Facts’ on Flu Shots

By Ocean County Health Department | Dec 04, 2019

Toms River — Can a flu vaccine give you the flu? Does the flu vaccine cover all strains of flu? Do I need a flu shot every year? These are three most asked questions we hear at the Ocean County Health Department by our residents every flu season. Sometimes it’s a little surprising for people when they hear our answer because they may recall old myths or been fed misinformation by the internet or social media.

“People should do their homework when it comes to their families’ health and safety. And when it comes to the flu it’s understandable that individuals have so many questions when it comes to the facts,” says Ocean County Freeholder Gerry P. Little, liaison to the Ocean County Board of Health. “Trust the health experts. They can decipher the facts from myths and help understand what’s the best course for you.”

Probably the biggest question we hear every year is if the flu vaccine can actually give you the flu. The answer is no. Flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and that therefore are not infectious, or b) using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection.

But why do some people say they feel sick after they receive the vaccine?

One reason is that some people can become ill from other respiratory viruses besides flu such as rhinoviruses, which are associated with the common cold, cause symptoms similar to flu, and also spread and cause illness during the flu season. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza, not other illnesses.

Another explanation is that it is possible to be exposed to influenza viruses, which cause the flu, shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.

A third reason why some people may experience flu-like symptoms despite getting vaccinated is that they may have been exposed to a flu virus that is unique from the viruses the vaccine is designed to protect against. The flu vaccine protects a person depending on the similarity or “match” between the viruses selected to manufacture the vaccine. There are many different flu viruses that spread and cause illness among people but are not included for protection in the current vaccines.

The final explanation for experiencing flu symptoms after vaccination is that the flu vaccine can vary in how well it works and some people who get vaccinated may still get sick.

What about getting a flu shot every year? Yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot yearly. It’s important to remember that a person’s immune protection from vaccines wears down over time so an annual vaccination is recommended to get the most optimal protection against the flu.

“The bottom line is that flu vaccines can and do save lives,” says Daniel Regenye, OCHD Public Health Coordinator. “It’s important to speak with your health care provider if you need more information and facts regarding any vaccines. Remember, the internet doesn’t always have the best information that would pertain specifically to you or your family.”

To learn more about the facts behind the flu or for our clinics schedule, visit the OCHD website at ochd.org or follow us on Twitter@OCpublichealth or on Facebook. Also check out our new website at phu2.org, to access and learn more about our Public Health is You Too! campaign to help equip you to take simple steps to improve your health.

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