Work long enough in medicine, and eventually, you’ll hear the all-too-common phrase: “I don’t want to get the flu vaccine. Every time I do, I get sick.”
The reality is that today’s influenza vaccines are all inactivated, as in “dead,” says Dr. Keyvan Rafei, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Culex Wellness. “These vaccines can’t really cause any symptoms.”
If symptoms do occur, he notes, it’s not because of the inactivated virus used in the vaccine – again, dead – but 100% in the way that our bodies respond to it.
“Many of us get a sore arm when we get the flu vaccine, but that’s not because the flu is causing the soreness. It’s because our body’s immune system is mounting a reaction,” says Dr. Rafei. “It’s saying, ‘Hey, what was that going into my arm? I better start fighting it.’”
The result? Achiness, swelling, and maybe even a little itchiness.
Another big contributor? Timing, says Dr. Rafei.
After all, when do we start to think about getting our flu vaccine? It’s typically not before the season is in full swing. Why would we? Nothing is happening then. No, most people wait until they see flu in the news or for the advertisements to begin popping up in pharmacy and grocery store windows.
“Then we run and get the flu shot,” Dr. Rafei says. “The problem here is that the very places we go to get the flu shot – the doctor’s office, the pharmacy, wherever that may be – is also where people who have the flu are trying to get relief. The risk of exposure is much greater.”
“What happens is that we get our flu shot and simultaneously catch the virus at the same time,” he continues. “A few days later, we get sick and say, ‘Gosh darn it, that vaccine did it again.’”
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the vaccine long before the flu makes headlines, and – of course – avoid being around people who are sick.
It’s important to remember that the vaccine takes approximately two weeks before it offers protective benefits.
“Two weeks is a very, very long time,” Dr. Rafei says. So, plan ahead.
Last but not least, Dr. Rafei says that vaccines are not a magic cure-all.
“We still catch COVID. We still catch the flu. Vaccines help our bodies fight these illnesses at a milder level and not let them become traumatic or life-threatening. We get these vaccines to prevent severe symptoms, not the infection as a whole.”