Can the Flu Shot Give You the Flu?

by | Apr 6, 2022 | General Health | 0 comments

In short, no. It’s 100%, hands-down impossible to get the flu from a flu vaccine.

With COVID still hanging around, getting your seasonal flu shot is as important as ever – no matter your age or wellness background.

Health authorities and us GPs are imploring everyone who’s eligible to protect themselves against the influenza virus. Having people who are infected with the flu filling up clinic waiting rooms and hospital beds is bad news, especially since it’s largely preventable.

And getting the double whammy of influenza plus COVID is a terrifying thought!

On average, over 200,000 Australians contract the flu each year. Hospitalisations number in the tens of thousands, with around 9% ending up in intensive care units.

Let’s debunk some common myths:

Myth: I Always Get the Flu After Getting Vaccinated

The flu vaccine doesn’t contain live influenza, only tiny fragments of the inactive virus’ surface protein. These fragments allow your immune system to identify the virus. Your body then gets signalled to produce antibodies to protect you from the flu.

You may be among the 5% of people who feel a bit unwell after getting the vaccine, but it’s not the flu. This reaction is just your immune system kicking in and learning what the influenza virus looks like. It’s your body preparing for battle!

In fact, if you feel a little run down after the flu shot, then lucky you. This means your immune system has responded well, and you’re protected.

Symptoms go away after a day or two, leaving your system well-equipped to fight off influenza.

woman on pink background pondering flu shot vaccine facts

Myth: I’ve Had the Flu Many Times – It’s No Big Deal

People frequently mistake a common cold for the full-blown flu. Getting a cold many times over the years is normal. However, most of us only contract the flu very occasionally.

Completely different viruses cause each illness.

I tell patients they’ll certainly know if they’re hit with the flu. High fevers, body aches, headaches, and intense fatigue are reliable indicators. In severe cases, the flu can send you to hospital with bacterial infections and pneumonia.

Runny noses, sneezing, and congestion are good indicators it’s just a cold. You rarely experience such symptoms if you have the flu.

Myth: The Flu Vaccine Isn’t Safe for Pregnant Women or Kids

The flu shot is perfectly safe for pregnant women, children, and the elderly.

The medical bodies representing GPs, paediatricians and obstetricians, and gynaecologists are united in their message: The flu jab is not only safe but recommended for these vulnerable groups as they’re more likely to experience serious symptoms. 

Flu shots are completely free for:

  • kids aged six months to five years old;
  • 65+ year olds;
  • people six months or older with particular medical conditions. These conditions include heart disease, severe asthma, kidney disease, low immunity and diabetes;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged over six months; and
  • pregnant women.
little boy kissing pregnant mums belly

Myth: The Local Pharmacy Is as Good as My GP for Flu Shots

Pharmacists are now permitted to administer the flu shot. However, you’re much better off visiting a GP clinic.

It’s more likely your GP or practice nurse will insist you hang around for 15 minutes after your immunisation. This is to ensure you’re not one of the unlucky few who experience anaphylactic reactions to vaccines and to help if you’re in need.

Pharmacy chains often get their stock and start administering the flu shot as early as March each year. The problem with this is that a March flu shot will only protect you for the four months until the end of June. The peak flu season is in full effect until the end of August, so your GP will often say late April is best.

As part of your complete healthcare, a visit to your GP also provides an opportunity to have you and your family’s immunisation histories reviewed to get all vaccines up to date.

man in white shirt crossing fingers for luck

Myth: The Influenza Virus Doesn’t Spread as Easily as COVID

While each day we’re still learning more about COVID, it’s wrong to assume the flu doesn’t spread as easily.

As with many respiratory viruses, the flu (and COVID) are highly contagious.

The flu passes from one person to the next similarly to COVID, namely through airborne droplets spreading. These droplets can result from coughing, sneezing, or merely talking.

Another person who then touches a surface that droplets have landed on, or is within 1.5 metres from an infected person, can inhale infected droplets into their lungs.

Similar to what we know about limiting COVID spreading, here are some infection and disease control tips for the flu:

  • Always cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash your hand regularly, especially after blowing your nose or being out in public.
  • Avoid touching your face as much as practical.
  • Stay home if sick and avoid being in contact with others.

So please arrange with your GP to get you and your family’s flu shot from late April to early May each and every year.

Dr Jeanne North is a GP at Doctors of South Melbourne. She has special interests in men’s health, kid’s health, and chronic disease management. 

You can make an appointment with Jeanne online or call us on (03) 8579 6838.

For your seasonal flu shot, please book an appointment with our 5-minute flu clinice.

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