Myth-busting: 7 facts about the flu shot

Getting a flu shot is simple enough. Finding reliable info about its safety and effectiveness? Not so simple.
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With a global pandemic, school closures, national protests over racial injustice, major job losses, and wildfires has made 2020 a hard year for everyone. This is especially true for youth in communities of color who are navigating what these challenges may mean for their future.

Even before COVID-19, mental disorders affected up to 1 in 5 U.S. children each year, costing an estimated $247 billion annually To address this sobering statistic, in 2019 Blue Shield of California launched the BlueSky initiative to support youth mental health throughout the state. BlueSky is a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort to enhance awareness, advocacy, and access to mental health support for middle and high school students statewide.

Providing mental health services at school increases kids’ access to care and improves school performance. Addressing mental health concerns early (PDF, 5MB) is vital. Fifty percent of mental illness onset occurs before the age of 14, and 75 percent occurs by age 24.

Youth Support

BlueSky funds school-based programs with one-on-one therapy sessions for students most in need in Alameda and San Diego counties. BlueSky partners with Wellness Together and its team of mental health specialists. This partnership helps maintain a robust schedule of online counseling sessions with youth, offering support to hundreds of students.

Results in the first year:
  • 3,855 counseling sessions completed at 19 schools in the 2019-20 year, including individual, group, family, and crisis counseling
  • The program pivoted to videoconference and phone sessions during school closures


BlueSky’s collaboration with led to a first-of-its-kind mental health guide created for students, by students. This unique guide, which helps parents and educators understand the complexities of youth stress, gives voice to students who are coping with stress and anxiety during these difficult times. For example, pre-teens and teens are continuing to deal firsthand with the effects of distance learning, stress, and isolation.

Results in the first year:
  • 48,533 youth signed up for the campaign and submitted 74,000+ tips in three months
  • The guide published at the start of the new school year on September 1, 2020.


With the help of NAMI California, high school students formed clubs that raise mental health awareness, educate the campus community, and promote services and support vehicles that empower youth advocates.

Results in the first year:
  • In June 2020, NAMI CA hosted an online Youth Symposium involving hundreds of youth, adult partners, and advocates. The Symposium was entitled “Empowering Youth to Change Conversations Around Metal Health.”
  • 49 active clubs operate throughout the state, with three of them formed since January 2020. NAMI CA is actively working to shift to online clubs and trainings.


Teacher Support

Because teachers are vital to youth growth and development, BlueSky partnered with the California Department of Education to expand access to Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). YMHFA is a training program for thousands of public school teachers and caring adults to identify mental health warning signs in youth. The program offers practical steps for supporting youth in in need of help.

Results in the first year:
  • Conducted 34 Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings in the 2019-20 year
  • Trained 867 adults, primarily teachers
  • Adapted in-person training for virtual and hybrid formats


Community Support

With the onset of COVID-19, it became clear that youth would need deeper community support to maintain healthy minds. BlueSky reached out to trusted community-based organizations that serve youth in San Diego and Alameda Counties, funding youth programs in the arts, sports, music,  leadership, and tele-counseling areas. This mini-grant program helped youth access support outside of school.

Results in the first year:
  • BlueSky provided $300,000 across 18 organizations, with mini-grants of $10,000-15,000 each
  • Programming reached vulnerable populations and helped communities support youth needs

Building awareness and mental health literacy helps Californians connect to resources and support, and removes the stigma that exists for many around seeking mental health support.

This work can’t be done alone. The heart of the BlueSky initiative rests with community partners that lead the youth mental health movement and make healthy minds a reality for California’s youth.

Getting a flu shot is simple enough. If you’re a Blue Shield of California or Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan member, you can get access to flu shots at convenient, safe locations.

Finding accurate information about the flu shot can be less simple. Get the facts and protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community this fall.

Myth 1: The flu vaccine can give me the flu

FACT: No matter what type of flu vaccine you get, it will not give you the flu. Have you ever felt achy or slightly feverish afterward? If so, it’s a normal reaction by the immune system to the vaccine. It normally lasts just a couple of days. But it’s not the flu.

Flu shots are made with either:

  • Inactivated (killed) viruses
  • A single protein from the flu virus

Nasal spray vaccines do contain live viruses. But these are attenuated (weakened) so that they will not cause illness.

Myth 2: The flu shot isn’t safe

FACT: Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu shots over the past 50 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A lot of research supports its safety.

Severe allergic reactions from a vaccine are very rare. They’re estimated at less than one in a million doses. If a reaction were to occur, it would usually be within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination.

Myth 3: I’m young and healthy – so I don’t need a flu shot

FACT: The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older (with rare exceptions).

The flu is a contagious disease. Even for generally healthy people, it can lead to: 

  • Serious illness
  • Missed work
  • Hospitalization

What’s more, spreading the virus puts children and older adults at risk.

Myth 4: I don’t need a flu shot every year

FACT: Flu viruses are constantly changing. The vaccine that protected you last year, say, isn’t likely to protect you this year. That’s why flu vaccines are typically updated from one year to the next. 

Also, the protection a vaccine gives you lessens over time. Getting vaccinated every year in the fall gives you the best protection.  

Myth 5: It doesn’t work anyway – I got the shot before and still got the flu

FACT: It’s easy to mistake symptoms from a very bad cold for the flu. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza virus. It does not protect against other respiratory illnesses. It’s also possible you have may have come down with a different strain of the virus not included in the latest vaccine.

You may even have been exposed to the flu virus just before getting the vaccine. And because the vaccine takes about two weeks to take effect, you were probably going to get sick anyway. Even if you do get sick, the severity of your symptoms may be milder and/or the duration of your illness may be shortened. 

Myth 6: The flu’s just a bad cold – why do I need a shot?

FACT: Some symptoms of the cold and flu do overlap. Think runny nose, sneezing, and cough.

However, the flu and cold are caused by different viruses. The flu certainly isn’t just a “bad cold.” It’s a serious disease that can cause hospitalization or even death.

During the 2018-2019 flu season, the CDC estimated:

  • 35.5 million people getting sick with the flu
  • 16.5 million people going to a healthcare provider
  • 490,600 hospitalizations
  • 34,200 deaths

Myth 7: I can't spread the flu if I’m feeling well.

FACT: Actually, 20% to 30% of people carrying the flu virus have no symptoms.

Skipping your flu shot not only puts you at risk but also your family and friends who you may spread it to. 

When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu virus can spread through a community. You’re also helping protect those around you who are unable to get a flu shot such as infants. 

Protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community. Do your part to help an already stretched healthcare system. Get your flu shot today!

Everything you need to know about this year's flu

Find information like where to go, COVID-19's impact, and the importance of the flu shot.

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