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Can You Get the Flu From the Flu Shot? The Science Clearly Says No

Doctors and medical experts remain baffled by this popular misconception.

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There’s one way to get through flu season intact: make sure you and your kids get a flu shot. It’s common sense. Doctors almost unanimously agree. Unfortunately, an alarming number of parents don’t believe it and they wonder if you can get the flu from the flu shot. More than half of parents in an Orlando Health survey believe that the flu shot actually gives a person the flu, while a third admitted that they didn’t think the flu shot really does anything at all.  The flu shot will not give you the flu. Are there flu shot side effects? Sure, but they’re usually minor, and unlikely to make you truly sick.  Will a flu vaccine benefit healthy individuals? Yes. It’s that simple.

Getting a flu shot in no way causes anyone to contract the flu, although some patients do have mild reactions to the vaccine that they erroneously equate to having the illness. And the shot is far from useless, as it’s the most proven method to protecting against the virus. How does it work? Every year, scientists from a variety of labs run by the World Health Organization select the flue shot’s ingredients by taking virus samples from labs across the world and mixing and matching them until they have four. Then, they deactivate those viruses. Let’s pause here: “The parts of the virus that are used are completely dead, so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot,” says Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. Dead viruses can’t get you sick. Moving on.

Once they give the vaccine to patients, their bodies, thinking the viruses alive, develop immune responses. That’s how they learn how to fight those viruses. Should they come in contact with the real thing, their bodies are prepared to fight the virus, so they never get sick. “After receiving the shot, it takes your body about two weeks to build up antibodies to fight the flu,” says Moorjani, “so if you come in contact with the virus during that time, you may still get sick, which is why you should get your flu shot as early as possible.”

When people hear about side effects to the flu shot, they likely come from a far less common live flu vaccine — called the Live Attenuated Flu Vaccine, or LAIV — that is available in the nasal spray form of the vaccine. The flu in this is so weak that like the regular shot, you cannot get the actual flu from this vaccine. But this vaccine does carry a higher likelihood of stronger side effects.

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A flu shot isn’t a cure for the flu, so getting one doesn’t guarantee that you and your kid won’t end up getting sick. The shot does, however, greatly reduce a person’s flu risk. And considering that some 80,000 people died from flu in the last season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you don’t want to risk your child’s health by not getting them a shot. Experts recommend anyone who is older than six months and healthy receive a flu shot.