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5 Common Misconceptions About Vaccines

Vaccination has become a contentious topic -- you've probably heard impassioned arguments both for and against this type of treatment. But unfortunately, misconceptions about vaccines are quite common, and these can lead to confusion. For instance, is it possible to actually get sick from a flu shot? Is the vaccine even effective at all?

Many people might be missing out on the benefits of vaccines because they don't understand how this type of medicine actually works. Here are five common misconceptions and some clarifications on each so you can make the right choice about vaccinations for you and your family.

1. You Can Catch the Flu From a Flu Vaccine

The myth that a flu shot can inadvertently give you the illness is simply not true. Flu shots are made with either an inactivated, noninfectious flu virus or without any flu viruses at all. You might get a side effect from the shot, such as redness and swelling; in rarer cases, you may experience low-grade fever, headache, or muscle aches. But these symptoms are mild, lasting just one to two days, and they're typically far less severe than the flu. It does take about two weeks for the shot to take effect, so if you get the flu, it may be because you were exposed soon after the vaccination was administered.

2. The Flu Vaccine Doesn't Work

This also is not true. The flu shot reduces the risk of getting the flu in at least 50 to 60 percent of people. If you still catch the flu even after you receive the shot, it may be because you caught a strain that the shot did not vaccinate against.

The nasal-spray flu vaccine, however, is a different story. The CDC recommends not using the nasal-spray version during the 2016-2017 flu season. In fact, Dr. Joseph Bresee, a flu expert with the CDC, said they could find no evidence that the spray vaccine was effective.

3. It's Better to Just Get Sick

In some cases, the flu can bring severe complications and even death -- that makes it hard to argue that it's better to get the flu instead of a flu shot. Children, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases such as heart disease are particularly at risk of flu-related complications, but even healthy adults may end up hospitalized. Plus, if you have the flu, you risk giving it to someone in an at-risk group.

This holds true for other diseases like measles or whooping cough. Some people -- especially those with less-robust immune systems -- can die from these conditions, making vaccinations a far better option.

4. You Don't Need to be Vaccinated for Something That's Been Practically Eliminated

Just because a disease has been almost eradicated from a country doesn't mean that you no longer need the vaccine. Diseases can be reintroduced by travelers who have been to countries where those conditions are still prevalent. Even just a few cases in a given country can spread quickly if people aren't vaccinated, potentially leading to an epidemic.

5. Improved Hygiene and Sanitation Have Decreased Disease, Not Vaccines

Another typical misconception about vaccines is that the diseases we vaccinate against are disappearing due to better hygiene and sanitation. Although these factors do reduce the spread of disease, they don't eliminate the need for vaccines. For example, a permanent drop in measles coincided with widespread vaccination use that started in 1963. And in Great Britain, a drop in whooping cough vaccinations in 1974 resulted in a 1978 epidemic that brought more than 100,000 cases.

Now that you know the truth behind some of the most common misconceptions about vaccines, you can make more informed decisions for yourself and your family when immunizations are presented as an option. There are plenty of vaccines out there for a myriad of conditions, and you can still make your own choices -- but you won't be basing those decisions off of false information.

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