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  • Nov 6, 2018

With this season’s flu season starting, we’re asked more and more by clients why there is so much resistance to getting the flu shot, and how they can counter the objections.

Coming out of the record-breaking flu season of 2017, we know this is important and very serious to address. The CDC said 2017's Influenza Death Toll Was the Highest in 40 Years! “The flu, as well as flu-related complications, was responsible for 80,000 U.S. deaths last winter. That’s the highest flu-related death toll in the U.S. four decades.” Of the estimated 80,000 who died of flu and its complications, 180 were children – and “approximately 80 percent of those deaths occurred in children who had not received a flu vaccination.”

We hear quite a few common flu shot objections, so we thought we’d share some of them here.

Objections and Facts

The flu shot is ineffective

Recent studies show “flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.”

Whenever I get the flu shot – I end up getting the flu

This is merely a coincidence because the flu vaccine cannot cause the illness according to the Centers for Disease Control. They say “Flu vaccines given with a needle (i.e., flu shots) are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and that therefore are not infectious, or b) using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection.”

Getting the flu after receiving a flu shot may just be a matter of timing as to when a person is exposed to the virus versus when they receive their vaccine. Also, many people will be struck with a Rhinovirus and confuse it for Influenza.

Plus - several studies have shown that those who receive the flu shot and come down with the flu will experience less severe flu symptoms than those who didn’t receive it.

I’m afraid of needles

This should not be a deterrent to getting needed immunizations. Simply sharing this information with the person administering the vaccination will allow them to accommodate for your fear. Giving it to you while you’re seated and looking away is a good option. They can also make sure you aren’t subjected to seeing others receiving the shot once they are made aware of your fear.

There is also a nasal spray strain of the vaccine as an option for some. That strain does contain live, but weakened, influenza viruses - so it will not cause flu illness. The CDC is once again recommending the spray during the 2018-2019 flu season.

There is also a needle-free flu shot, delivered by a “jet injector”. A high-pressure stream of fluid is used to inject the vaccine, the CDC says. It is approved for adults ages 18 to 64

Communication hint: A key to effective flu shot communications is not to use pictures of people actually receiving the shot because the needle shown can be a deterrent for some.

It’s inconvenient for me to go to my doctor to get the shot

People don’t need to go to their primary care doctor to receive the flu shot. Many employers offer very convenient on-site options, and it’s also available at many pharmacies and retail clinics. Many of these options are available after working hours – such as evenings and weekends.

Communication hint: Share the options and low costs available for the flu shot for your population. If you offer free on-site vaccination – be sure they know. If their family can participate – make it convenient for them to come in to receive it.

It’s better to get the flu than to get the vaccine

No, it’s not. The CDC says “Flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes. Any flu infection can carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death, even among otherwise healthy children and adults. Therefore, getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking illness to obtain immune protection.”

I don’t like how I feel after I get the flu shot

Only about 1 percent to 2 percent of people who get a flu shot will have fever as a side effect.

According to the CDC, “The most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days. In randomized, blinded studies, where some people get inactivated flu shots and others get salt-water shots, the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat.”

I don’t need to get the flu shot every year

It is important to get the shot every year because immune protection from vaccination does decline over time. Also, flu viruses are constantly changing, and the immunization created each year takes this into effect each year.

Benefits to the Flu Shot – according to the CDC

  • Can keep people from getting sick with flu.

  • Can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for children, working age adults, and older adults.

  • Is an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions.

  • Helps protect women during and after pregnancy.

  • Can be life-saving in children.

  • Has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.

  • Getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you,  including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions.

The Importance of Communication to Dispel Myths

It’s important to continue to dispel myths related to the safety and efficacy of the flu shot in order to get as many people as possible in your population protected. Here is a print-ready PDF piece from the CDC “A Strong Defense Against Flu: Get Vaccinated!” that you can share to support your communication efforts.

Incentives may also be the factor that gets people to take the right step and get immunized. If your health and wellness program doesn’t include them, then consider weaving them in.


To learn more about how APH’s Poindexter platform identifies gaps in care such as the influenza vaccine and other important care areas, please contact us here to learn more and to see a demo. Being able to readily identify and target for communication those who haven’t been vaccinated can make your outreach campaigns all that much more effective.