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JAMA Busts Flu Vaccine Myths

Worthy of Myth Busters, JAMA debunks common influenza vaccine myths

The 2012/2013 influenza season may be winding down, but the excuses for not being vaccinated against seasonal flu continue. Vaccination rates seem to be low despite an early and ferocious flu season and healthcare workers seem to be on the lower end of the vaccine numbers. In response to the reluctance of many to get the flu shot, JAMA recently published a paper outlining (and debunking) common arguments against flu vaccination.

MYTH: The Vaccine does not work.
JAMA Response: Busted! Notes the flue vaccine is not as effective as common vaccines, but "not as effective" does not mean "not effective". They go on to state that this years influenza vaccine was estimated at 62% effective by mid-season. According to the article:
"A prevention measure that reduced the risk of a serious outcome by 60% in most in- stances would be a noted achievement; yet for influenza vaccine, it is seen as a “failure.” JAMA.
Myth: The vaccine causes the flu.
JAMA Response: Busted!
"...people may develop an influenza-like illness or even laboratory-confirmed influenza after vaccination. This does not mean the illness was vaccine induced but rather was likely due to a noninfluenza viral infection" and "exposure to influenza before immunity from the vaccine had time to develop, or the fact that the vaccine is not 100% effective."
Myth: I have an allergy to eggs.
JAMA Response: Busted! The article states that those with severe allergic reactions or anyphylaxis after exposure to eggs should avoid flu vaccine. Those with such a reaction should consult an allergist for detailed assessment. They further state:
"...recent evidence-based guidance advises that all other egg-allergic patients should receive influenza vaccination based on the rationale that the risks of not vaccinating outweigh the risks of vaccinating these individuals as long as basic precautions are followed."
Myth: I cannot get the vaccine because I am pregnant or have an underlying medical condition or because I live with an immunocompromised person.
JAMA Response: Busted! This may be the most important flu vaccine myth to bust as it directly impacts those who need the vaccine (or protection from flu) the most. Those with comorbid conditions or underlying medical problems are at most risk of complications from seasonal influenza. According to JAMA -
"...these groups have been specifically recommended for influenza vaccination because the vaccine is safe in these persons and can prevent serious morbidity and mortality." and "it is important for clinicians to recognize the individual’s desire to prevent harm in close contacts but to redirect this good intention by emphasizing the morbidity due to transmitted influenza."
Myth: I never get the flu/I am healthy.
JAMA Response: Busted! This excuse sounds a lot like Optimism Bias from the It Wont Happen to Me crowd. According to the JAMA article:
"Refusing vaccination because of a perceived low risk ignores the potential risk to close contacts, especially those who cannot get vaccinated or who will not mount a strong immune response to the vaccine and rely on herd immunity for protection."

Influenza Prevention Update, JAMA. 2013;309(9):881-882. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.453. Examining Common Arguments Against Influenza Vaccination

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