Just a Little Pin Prick

An Expert Weighs In: Get Your Flu Shot (Really)

"Get your flu shot," says Intercoastal Medical Group's Dr. Philip Rubin. Hannah Wallace finds out why.

By Hannah Wallace October 7, 2016

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Image: Shutterstock

No, seriously: do it.

It’s amazing to me that the murmurs arise every year: “Are you going to get a flu shot? I’m not sure if I should. They say it can’t give you the flu, but my [friend/sister/waiter/cab driver] told me they got the flu from it and now they’ll never get one again.”

Oh, crowd-sourced medicine, you are a troublesome phenomena.

So instead of echoing the word of every doctor I’ve ever heard or read comment on the topic, I asked Intercoastal Medical Group's Dr. Philip Rubin to expand a bit. He gave me two major reasons for the persistence of these anti-flu-shot rumors:

1. The dead flu virus in the vaccine causes an immune system response—that’s what it’s supposed to do. It might make you feel achy or otherwise like you’re coming down with something. You’re not. If you were, it would get worse from there.

2. You might get a flu shot and then get sick anyways—just not with the flu. (Or you may be so unlucky as to contract a totally different strain of flu that wasn't included in this year's vaccine.)

That second explanation entertains me a bit. Because the rumor that the flu shot causes the flu is so persistent, I imagine that there are a number of people who manage to avoid illnesses for a few flu seasons by practicing your basic flu-safety behavior. Then one year, they get the shot and come down with some other icky bug (that they then blame on the flu). It makes me imagine that flu shots trigger some invincibility mindset that leads to risky behavior—like there are people who get the shot and then, drunk on the power of their new immunity, avoid Purell altogether and chronically stick their fingers in their mouths.

Yeah, don’t do that.

Dr. Rubin also told me that it’s possible this year’s outbreak is so bad because this year’s prominent strain of influenza—there’s usually a different strain that makes it big each year—hasn’t been around so much for seven or eight years now. That means fewer people have developed a natural immunity to it.

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