Flu season — avoid the misconceptions

By Tyler Bui | Staff Writer, Video by Sarah Gill | Broadcast Reporter

Flu season is rapidly approaching, and medical professionals across the Baylor campus have been encouraging students to get their flu shot and avoid myths about the shot.

Some students are apprehensive to receive the flu shot because of the misconception that getting the shot will lead to the flu or a common cold. However, Dr. Sharon Stern, medical director at Baylor University Health Services, said there is no possible way that can happen.

“There are several misconceptions about the flu vaccine; the most important one that we hear the most is that you can catch the flu from the flu vaccine,” Stern said. “That is not true. The proteins that are in the vaccine are killed viruses, so they cannot infect you at all.”

Stern said that one of the reasons why many people think the flu vaccine can cause the flu is the location and timing of a flu shot.

“I think there is a reason people have a correlation [with the flu and the flu shot] because they typically go to get the flu vaccine in a doctor’s office during flu season, where they may come in contact with other people who may have the flu,” Stern said. “They then might catch [the flu] from that exposure. There is no live virus in the flu vaccine. It’s because they went to a place where there were lots of people with colds.”

Stern said that the flu shot also does not cause a common cold or weaken the immune system, although there can be mild side effects that can be triggered by any type of vaccine.

“The most common side effect is soreness in your arm. The flu shot does not weaken your immune system,” Stern said. “The vaccine triggers your immune system to work so that you build up antibodies against these strains of the flu, and that is improving your immune system, not making it worse. Any vaccine can cause in some people things like headaches and stomachaches. It’s not uncommon to have those types of side effects.”

Stern said there are other misconceptions about the flu vaccine that deter people from getting the flu shot.

“One is that if you’ve already had the flu in the past, you don’t need the vaccine,” Stern said. “That is not true because there are lots and lots of different strains of the flu.”

The flu vaccine is created after extensive research to find the most prevalent strains of the flu for the given year.

“There’s a lot of science that goes into the flu vaccine—the one that we have now has four different strains, so it covers for several different strains of A and B,” Stern said. “We follow the flu from the southern hemisphere up to the north and that’s how we predict which [strain] will be the most common.”

Stern said that the vaccine can be anywhere from 40% to 80% effective, given the year and how accurate scientists are when identifying the strains that will be included in the vaccine. She also said that many strains are similar, so even if the strain isn’t included in the vaccine, the vaccine can still help prevent the flu.

“There’s constant mutations that are new every year,” Stern said. “They’re just slightly different, so there is benefits to getting a flu vaccine every year. If the strains are close enough to the same, your immune system might be strong enough to fight it off, so you don’t get [the flu.]”

Stern said that the flu shot is not only beneficial to students, but also the individuals who are unable to get vaccinated themselves.

“I would say that it really is beneficial to you as students. If we immunize young people, it [also] helps to protect our elderly and our immunocompromised people from getting the flu because of herd immunity,” Stern said. “If you have enough people immunized, then the people who either can’t take the vaccine or the vaccine may not be as effective in them…they are protected when young people get the vaccine.”

Overland Park, Kan., Senior Jessie Jilovec said herd immunization is one of the main reasons why she gets the flu shot every year.

“It provides immunity to people who can’t get the flu shot if they’re allergic to eggs or are on immuno-suppressant drugs,” Jilovec said. “Everybody should get the flu shot to help those people who are unable to.”

Stern said everyone should receive a flu vaccine, especially college students who live in close proximity with each other.

“The flu vaccine is not 100%, no vaccine is, but living the way college students live in close contact with each other, you’re going to catch a lot of the same viruses from each other,” Stern said. “It’s important to get the flu shot; it’s really a good thing to do for your health, even if you have a little arm soreness or achiness…it’s worth it to not get the flu and not be contagious to others.”

Students can receive a flu shot on campus at the Baylor University Health Center by appointment or walk-in, as well as flu shot clinics that will be held on Oct. 22 in the Baylor Law School or Oct. 29 at the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation. Flu shots are $25 at the clinic locations.