Busting the Myths About Flu Shots for Older Adults
While much of the world’s focus this year has been on the coronavirus, it’s once again time for the influenza virus to begin making the rounds. Like COVID-19, older adults are at higher risk for contracting it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older adults account for 70% to 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths in the United States during a typical flu season. They also make up between 50% and 70% of flu-related hospital admissions.
With startling statistics like those, it’s surprising how many older adults resist having an annual influenza vaccine. In a typical year, only 65% of older adults receive the influenza vaccine, which is considered one of the best prevention steps you can take to avoid catching the flu.
If you or a senior loved one is among the 35% of older adults who refuse the vaccine, your worries might be linked to one of these popular myths. Unfortunately, it could be putting your health at serious risk. Here are five popular flu shot myths, debunked!
Myth #1: Flu shots work by giving you a small dose of the flu.
This popular myth is a persistent one. Many seniors think the flu shot contains an active virus. They incorrectly believe that exposure to the flu is how you build antibodies to it. According to the CDC, the flu shot contains only inactive virus. You can’t get the flu from getting the vaccine. The most common side effect is muscle soreness near the injection site.
Myth #2: The flu shot is basically the same every year.
Some older adults believe the vaccine is largely the same from one year to the next. Those who hold on to that belief say they only need a flu shot every few years. The reality is that new strains of the flu occur every year. Scientists develop vaccines that target those strains predicted to be predominant during that year’s flu season. While you should talk with your own physician about when to have your flu shot, the general recommendation is early October, before flu season begins.
Myth #3: The regular flu isn’t all that serious.
Seniors sometimes confuse a cold with the flu. They view the illness as an inconvenience, not a serious health risk. This is a dangerous myth to believe. Every year, more than 200,000 people are admitted to hospitals with the flu. Another 36,000 people lose their lives because of flu-related complications. Older adults comprise the bulk of those numbers.
Myth #4: The flu shot hurts!
Those who suffer from a fear of needles might avoid getting vaccinated. If you’ve never had a flu shot before, you might be surprised to learn how little pain is involved. Experts advise relaxing and taking deep breaths while you are being vaccinated. That keeps your muscles from getting stiff, which can make the needle more painful. Also, by getting the shot in your non-dominant arm, you’ll be less likely to aggravate it afterward.
Myth #5: Seniors who are healthy don’t need a flu shot.
While we know some members of our population, such as children, pregnant women, and people aged 40 or older, are at higher risk for the flu and its complications, anyone can catch it. Even if you don’t feel sick, you might be. You can spread the virus to people you come in contact with who may have a weaker immune system.
Share This with the Seniors in Your Life
You can help bust the common myths about flu shots by sharing this information with the older adults in your life. Help our community elders— whether friends from the neighborhood or seniors from your church—learn why they need to follow doctor’s orders and get a flu shot.