Unmasking the myths

Photo by Kerby Archives

It’s nearly time for Halloween. It’s the season of the year when tykes head door-to-door for their annual fall sugar rush, donning adorable costumes and outfits.

However, it’s also the time of year when we’re reminded of frights and terrors.

We all know stories of vampires and werewolves, ghouls and ghosts, and maybe that hitchhiker on an old road who’s been dead for 15 years.

But in this digital age, we all know those myths and legends to be false. What’s much scarier these days is the amount of misinformation on the web, especially when it comes to our health.

Here are several myths you might have heard about the annual flu shot that are just as fake as bigfoot and alien abductions, with the proper answers straight from a University of Alberta disease specialist.

The Vaccine Isn’t Safe

One of the most common myths about the annual flu shot is that it’s unsafe: whether it’s because of the medicinal or non-medicinal ingredients.

But Lynora Saxinger, medical lead of the Antimicrobial Stewardship for Northern Alberta with Alberta Health Services, said in an interview with U of A that this just isn’t the case.

Vaccines have some of the highest levels of testing and safety when it comes to their proven effectiveness. They do not carry live strains of the virus and so it’s impossible to get the flu from the shot, itself.

Some of the non-medicinal ingredients, such as formaldehyde or aluminum, might sound spooky at first. But the amount in the shot is so tiny, so completely minuscule, that you can find higher amounts of both just occurring naturally in our bodies day to day.

If you can trust the safety of the medical profession to get things like stitches, surgeries or anesthetics, it just makes sense that you can also trust vaccines.

“If people don’t trust the safety of vaccines, I actually don’t see how they could trust any medical intervention or treatment,” she said.

There’s a huge list of people who just shouldn’t get it

Some people shouldn’t get the flu shot, but it’s much shorter than you’d expect.

Those who are medically vulnerable, in fact, such as older adults, pregnant women or those with chronic conditions, are actually encouraged to get the vaccine to help protect them.

You should always consult with your physician, especially if you might have had a nasty reaction previously, but overall, when it comes to the exceptions “it’s a very short list,” she said.

I’m healthy, so even if I do get the flu, it’s not that big a deal

The influenza virus is much nastier than your average common cold, even if you’re a healthy adult.

“Most people cannot function with influenza; it’s quite different from a cold,” she said. “They’re home for at least a couple of days, and on average it’s five days of being down for the count and 10 days of illness.”

“Some people feel the flu doesn’t impact them and it’s not necessary to get vaccinated. But I would argue this might be the year where it would impact you, so why not stop by and get the shot?”

Moreover, getting inoculated helps make sure you’re not accidentally passing it on to someone else. Every single person who gets vaccinated is another person who won’t cough up the virus to infect another.

“We won’t get rid of influenza completely because the virus is too intelligent and the vaccine isn’t perfect,” Saxinger said, “but we can reduce the spread within our community and have a really low-impact influenza year.”

Getting the shot doesn’t guarantee you won’t get the flu

This myth, however, is technically true! But overall, it’s still not the best reason for not sitting down and getting your shot ahead of the sick season.

“The vaccine doesn’t make you bulletproof,” said Saxinger. “People who have the vaccine can still get the disease, but it tends to be milder and patients are less likely to require hospitalization or die.”

This year’s vaccine aims to target four strains of influenza that have been chosen by the World Health Organization as likely to be active in North America.

Even if it’s not perfect protection, it’s better than nothing: especially as we’ve already noted how dangerous the flu can be.

“We don’t say, ‘Well, that’s imperfect protection so I’m not going to bother with a seatbelt,'” she said. “You should do everything you can to reduce your risk there’s also personal culpability if you decide not to bother and you put the vulnerable people around you at risk.”

Overall, there are lots of things to be scared of in this wide, open world of ours. The flu can be dangerous, but we can take steps to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

All it requires is looking straight at the real ghosts and ghouls, the myths and information circling the shot, and deciding it’s high time to rip off their masks.

Scooby and the gang would be proud.