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The Truth About Flu Vaccines

Advice for 2016: Avoid a repeat of 2014's deadly flu epidemic; get a flu shot.


flu shot

By BJ Towe

“Devastating” is the word Kevin Cunningham, M.D., Chief Medical Officer and an Internal Medicine physician with The Iowa Clinic, uses to describe 2014's flu season in Iowa. The number of flu cases, hospitalizations, and deaths – even among otherwise healthy individuals – reached epidemic proportions.

To help ensure that a flu season the likes of 2014 never happens again, Dr. Cunningham says, “We join the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention in advising virtually everyone over the age of 6 months to get vaccinated every year.”

Flu Shot Quiz: Questions & Answers

1. In Iowa, the flu season hits hardest during the holidays.

False. “In Iowa, flu season revs up mid- to late-December, but the largest number of flu cases typically occurs during January and February,” says Dr. Cunningham.

2. The nasal spray is better than the injection.

False. The nasal spray has not been shown to be as effective as the injection. Therefore, it is not being offered for the 2016-17 flu season.

3. You should get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available.

True. It takes 10 to 14 days after being vaccinated for the body to build immunity. And – since no one knows exactly when the flu season will peak – the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention recommends getting the vaccine as soon as it becomes available.

“Optimally, everyone should be immunized before the end of October or early November, but as long as the flu virus is circulating it's not too late to get a shot,” says Cunningham.

“School-age kids generally have stronger immune systems. For this reason, the CDC says it's okay for them to get the vaccine at the same time as their school physicals in late summer/early fall,” he says.

4. The flu vaccine protects throughout the flu season.

True. The CDC believes the vaccine will protect most people throughout the flu season. It's important to note, however, that the vaccine is most protective for two or three months after being vaccinated. The level of protection gradually decreases after that.

5. The flu shot protects only against certain strains of the disease.

True. Flu viruses vary year to year. The vaccine must be produced months in advance of flu season, before it's possible to know how the viruses may have changed. Still, getting the vaccine is your best protection.

“For 2016-17, the makers of vaccines will be compelled to include three viruses – two flu A viruses (like the 2009 California virus and the 2014 Hong Kong virus) and a flu B virus (like the 2008 Brisbane virus),” says Cunningham.

6. The vaccine is safe for nearly everyone.

True. Everyone over the age of 6 months should be vaccinated every flu season. It's especially important for people who are at high risk for developing flu-related complications, such as children under age 5, adults over age 65, and individuals with chronic diseases such as asthma.

There are different vaccines formulated for different groups of people, so nearly everyone can get a shot. People with a severe egg allergy or certain other conditions may not be suitable for a vaccine. Your healthcare provider can help determine if the vaccine is safe for you.

7. The shot can give you the flu.

False. However, you might have some minor reactions to the shot for a couple of days, such as body aches and a low-grade fever. But those reactions are definitely worth avoiding potentially being in a hospital on a respirator, or worse.

8. You can get the flu even if you've been vaccinated.

True. But if you have been vaccinated, the symptoms will most likely be less severe.

Getting a flu shot is quick and easy. And in addition to providing you protection, it can help protect those around you, especially people who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness by not exposing them to the virus, by minimizing the risk of exposure.

To learn more or to schedule your flu vaccination, please call The Iowa Clinic at 515-875-9000.

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