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Patients Skeptical of the Flu Vaccine? Here’s How to Reason With Them

The flu season is in full swing, and when it comes to prevention, you already know that the flu vaccine is one of the best solutions. Yet year after year patients, aren’t on keen on getting the vaccine. In fact, according to recent data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2014 and 2015 only 43 percent of adults and 59 percent of children received the flu vaccine.

When it comes to convincing your patients to get the flu shot, some will come up with every excuse in the book to avoid it. Many worry that it’s not very effective or they’re concerned they’ll get the flu from the shot, while others think that since they’re healthy, they can’t get the flu.

Here are some of the most common objections patients have to the flu shot and how you can address them so they’ll stay healthy this year.

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1. I’ll get sick.

People who have had flu-like symptoms or have felt sick after getting the flu shot may want to avoid getting it again. Yet since the flu vaccine is an inactivated virus it’s simply not possible to get the flu from it. “It ignites your immune system to start working,” according to Dr. Dawne Kort, a ZocDoc physician at CityMD in Long Island, NY. “That sometimes lowers your immune system while you’re building the antibodies and you may feel a little run down and you may feel a little ill but that is not the flu,” she said.

2. The flu shot isn’t very effective.

Patients may opt out of the flu shot because they think it’s not effective. Although last year’s flu vaccine was only 48 percent effective, in years past its efficacy has been higher.

Of course, some protection is better than none and patients who get the flu despite getting vaccinated fare much better than those who don’t. In fact, an October 2017 study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found the flu shot reduced ICU admissions, the overall duration of hospitalization and ICU and deaths.

3. But…I’m healthy.

Patients may often tell you that since they eat right, exercise, are healthy and rarely get sick, they don’t need the flu shot. Yet the reality is that anyone can get the flu regardless of age or health status and the symptoms—high fever, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea—can keep them bedridden for days, even weeks.  “The flu spares no one,” Kort says.

4. The flu is a cold, but worse.

Like the common cold, the flu is a virus but it’s much worse than sneezes, sniffles, and coughs they’re used to. “The distinguishing feature with the flu is people can die,” Kort says.

5. I don’t need the flu shot every year.

A common misconception patients have is that they’re protected from the flu if they received the flu shot last year. Yet since the flu vaccine is designed to protect against particular flu strains that scientists identify from the previous year and that changes year to year, patients need to get vaccinated every year.

6. I’m worried about having a reaction.

Patients may worry about getting the flu shot because of case reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome. Although a serious reaction can occur from any vaccine, Guillain-Barré syndrome is rare regardless of vaccination and “the benefits significantly outweigh the risks,” Kort says.

7. I’m pregnant.

Despite a recent study that showed an association between the flu vaccine in early pregnancy and miscarriage, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the flu vaccine is safe during all trimesters and recommends pregnant women get immunized.

Not only will the flu vaccine reduce a woman’s risk of the flu, but it will also give her passive immunity and protect her baby within the first few weeks of life. Of course, offering the thimerosal-free flu shot can put her mind at ease.   

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