Flu jab vaccination myth-busting

There are a number of myths about the flu vaccine. Scientists at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) dispel some of the common ones.
Female GP and Male Patient

The flu vaccine gives you the flu

No, it doesn’t. The flu vaccine that is given to adults contains inactivated or ‘dead’ flu virus so there is no way it can give you the flu.

A small number of people can experience side effects such as headache or muscle pain, in this small number of cases this is the body’s immunity recognising the vaccine and creating a reaction. Although these symptoms can be uncomfortable, they will usually disappear within days after the injection, and most people do not feel much more than an achy arm.

Any cough or cold that appears after you get the flu vaccine was probably already in your system or caught at the same time.

The flu vaccination gives you bad side effects

Risk of a serious side effect from having the flu vaccine is one in a million. For the most part, the side effects are mild, or none at all. Most common is experiencing soreness around the site of the injection. Occasionally aching muscles, however a lot less serious than actually having the flu.

One flu vaccine covers you for life

The World Health Organization predicts which flu viruses will be circulating and these are different every year. NIBSC helps make the vaccines that match the new viruses. One flu vaccine will provide protection for only the flu season that year.

Having flu is just like having a heavy cold

Flu kills - flu is much worse than a heavy cold. While some people will get the flu and recover others will get complications caused by flu, and become seriously ill and have to go to hospital.

The flu vaccine is grown in chicken eggs

Yes – at NIBSC the strains of the flu virus which are selected by the World Health Organization are mixed with egg-adapted virus strains to make sure they grow well in chicken eggs and produce a lot of antigen. Antigen is the active substance in vaccines and having a lot of this is important so manufacturers can produce the high number of doses needed.

If an egg-free flu vaccine is not available, a GP may be able to find a suitable flu vaccine with a low egg content.

It’s already too late if you’ve had flu this year

While it is better to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, it’s always worth getting vaccinated before the end of the flu season (March). As there are usually several flu viruses circulating each year, you could go on to catch another strain.

Children can’t get the flu vaccine

They can – there is a nasal spray vaccine for children which contains live but extremely weakened flu viruses that will not give them flu. It’s recommended for all healthy children aged over two years of age, right up until year 3 at school. At-risk children aged over six months can also be given the inactivated vaccine by their GP.

Flu vaccines are only for the very young or the very old

While complications from the flu are most dangerous for the very young or elderly, the flu can hit strong and healthy people hard – it’s more than a heavy cold.

Antibiotics will fight flu

No they won’t – flu is caused by viruses not bacteria.

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