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Spectrum Health doctor debunks flu shot misconceptions

It prevented an estimated 5.3 million people from getting the flu in 2016-2017, according to the CDC.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Last flu season, there were 138 reported deaths across the U.S. from the illness, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). 

That's why Kara Willoughby, physician, M.D. with Pediatrician Spectrum Health recommends getting the flu vaccination. It prevented an estimated 5.3 million people from getting the flu in 2016-2017 and can reduce doctor visits because of the flu by 40 to 60 percent, according to the CDC. 

However, there are people who are still wary about protecting themselves and others against the illness. She debunked eight common misconceptions that people have surrounding the flu shot. 

Getting the flu shot will give you the flu

Dr. Willoughby said this is the most common misconception. 

"You do not get the flu from the flu shot. The strain of the virus that's in the flu shot is not living and is not able to cause illness. But what does happen is it alerts your immune system that it needs to fight something off. So when that happens you can get some muscle aches and a low-grade fever." 

She said when you have those reactions, that's when you know it's working because your body is learning how to fight off the flu. 

Even though I get the flu shot, I still get the flu at some point

Dr. Willoughby said that's true because doctors and researchers don't always correctly predict which strands of the flu are going to be the most common that season. 

"If you do get the flu it will be less severe. Usually 40 to 60 percent less than if you get the full-blown flu. It's been shown to prevent hospitalization, and even prevent ICU admissions for children by getting your flu vaccine."

I'm healthy, I don't need the flu shot

She said the flu shot doesn't just protect you against the illness, but the community too. 

"It isn't just about healthy people. In fact, it might even be more about the people who can't get the flu shot. Like the elderly, the immunocompromised, and babies who are too young to get their flu shot."

My child is too young to get the flu shot

She said you are eligible for the flu shot at 6 months old and older. 

When people get their flu shot for the first time, they get a double dose. But if you're around babies younger than six months or are unable to get it, it's most important to wash your hands, cover your cough, and to not go in public if you're sick with a fever. 

"It's about preventing the spread of illness."

I don't have time to get the flu shot

The flu shot is available at any pharmacy, but she said that there's a misconception about what the flu actually is. 

"People associate the flu with the stomach flu; vomiting and diarrhea, which is not the flu that we're protecting against. The flu we're protecting against is a respiratory illness. It comes with a cough, fever, and can last anywhere from three to more than seven days. By quickly stopping at your pharmacy you can really pay it forward for what that illness could turn into." 

The flu shot costs money

"Most insurances cover the flu shot no matter where you receive it. It's available at no cost to you," Dr. Willoughby said. 

I'll get the flu shot later

She said the CDC recommends getting your flu shot by the end of October. 

"The earlier you get it, the more protected you are throughout the flu season. The immunity does last throughout the flu season so the earlier the better." 

She said doctors and researchers are expecting 2019-2020 to be a brutal flu season. 

I read it takes 6-8 weeks to build up to full immunity

"It's about two weeks before it kicks in," she said. 

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