Right as flu season ramps up, a new survey shows that a disturbingly high number of parents harbor some pretty big misconceptions about the vaccine that helps prevent it.
According to a national survey of 704 U.S. parents with children under 18, conducted by the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, 30 percent of parents feel the flu vaccine is a “conspiracy,” while another 28 percent of parents believe it can cause autism.
Hear that noise? It’s the sound of our heads thunking the desk. Let’s be absolutely clear: There have never been any credible studies that link the flu vaccine and autism. And the only paper that claimed to link the MMR vaccine to autism—the one that kicked off a global paranoia about vaccines—has been soundly debunked and retracted by the journal that published it. In fact, the doctor who wrote it was later banned from practicing medicine in Britain!
But those aren’t the only myths about the vaccine that just won’t seem to go away. More than half of parents think their child can get the flu from the flu shot, while a third believe the shot does not protect against the flu.
Dr. Jean Moorjani, a board-certified pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital, is happy to set the record straight: “The parts of the virus that are used in the vaccine are completely dead, so you cannot get the flu from the flu shot.”
What many parents don’t know, Dr. Moorjani notes, is it takes about two weeks after getting the vaccine for the body to build up antibodies to adequately protect against the flu—meaning someone can still get the virus during that time. So if your kid got the flu right after the shot, it wasn’t from the shot itself. He just got the flu.
As for the shot’s effectiveness, it’s true that it doesn’t protect against every strain of the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), current flu vaccines tend to work better against influenza B (H1N1) viruses and offer lower protection against influenza A (H3N2) viruses. But a 2017 study discovered a hugely important reason why your kids should still get the vaccine: It significantly reduces a child’s chance of dying from the illness. Studies have also found the vaccine makes the illness milder and last for fewer days.
“If a child does not receive the vaccine and becomes infected with the flu, then their symptoms will be more severe and they have a higher risk of developing a complication such as pneumonia or sepsis. During the last flu season, we know that about 80 percent of the children who died from the flu were unvaccinated. And of the children who died from the flu last year, about half of them were perfectly healthy children,” Dr. Moorjani says.
Sadly, the 2018-2019 flu season already offers a tragic example: The first person to die of the virus this year was an unvaccinated child in Florida who was otherwise healthy before he came down with the flu.
The stubborn persistence of these myths might help explain why only a little over half of kids get the vaccine every year, despite the fact that the CDC recommends it for everyone over 6 months of age, except for those with life-threatening allergies to the shot.
"I think it's difficult right now because parents and families have access to many different sources of information, and their sources could provide accurate information or inaccurate information," says Dr. Moorjani, who points to social media as a big vector for confusion.
Parents, please, listen to the medical professionals—not your neighbor Joan who likes to rant on Facebook—and protect your kid from what’s likely to be another brutal flu season.