The flu vaccine: myth busting

An image of Aamir Shaikh
Chief Pharmaceutical Officer's Clinical Fellow at Bupa UK
21 October 2019
Next review due October 2022

Winter is coming. No, this isn’t a Game of Thrones re-run – winter really is coming! Soon, we’ll all start to feel the chill. And for many people, winter isn’t all about wrapping up warm in front of the fireplace with mulled wine. Unfortunately, the winter months bring with them the risk of flu. And this time of year always reminds me of conversations I used to have with patients whenever I asked if they’d had their flu vaccine.

The flu vaccine is free to people who are at an increased risk of getting the flu. Some workplaces may offer it to their employees, or you can pay for it yourself.

This short article covers off some of the main myths surrounding the flu vaccine.

Myth 1: Getting the flu jab will give you the flu.

No, don’t worry – it won’t.

The flu injection that’s given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses – so it can’t give you the flu. Inactivated means that the virus isn’t live.

The nasal spray that children have does contain a live flu virus, but it’s been weakened so much that it can’t give your child the flu.

What this all means is that your body will be able to produce the antibodies it needs. So if you do come into contact with the actual flu virus during the winter months, it’s able to defend itself from catching the flu.

Myth 2: I have a strong immune system, I don’t need the flu vaccine.

While you might have a strong immune system (the defence system that helps to protect you from harmful invaders), this won’t necessarily protect you from the flu.

Getting the flu vaccine not only helps to protect you, but also those around you. Anyone can get the flu, even if you’re generally healthy. And it’s very easy to pass on to others. It’s one of the reasons that healthcare professionals and carers are also offered the vaccine – because even if your immune system is strong, the people you care for might still be at risk.

The only way to help protect yourself from the flu is by getting the annual flu vaccine and following some protective measures including the following.

  • Wash your hands regularly (with soap and water). You could also put an alcohol-based hand gel in your bag for when you’re on the move.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue if you cough or sneeze (and then wash your hands). Get a pack of travel tissues to keep with you too.
  • Keep away from those who are poorly with the flu or other illness.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Myth 3: I had the vaccine last year, so I’m covered this year.

Not necessarily, no. The strains of flu change a lot and so the World Health Organization (WHO) meets every year to decide what strains of the virus the vaccine needs to protect against. This means that every year the vaccine is updated to match as closely as possible to the current season’s flu virus. This is so that people who choose to have the vaccine are protected from the flu as much as possible for that year.

Myth 4: It’s only worth getting the vaccine once you have flu.

Actually no – once you’re already ill with the flu, it’s best not to get the vaccine. Common side-effects of any vaccine may include a slight headache and sore arm. And if you’re feeling unwell, your healthcare professional may ask you to wait until you feel better before you have the flu vaccine. You won’t be protected until about two weeks after you have the vaccine, so it’s best to get it while you’re well.

However, if you’re a bit under the weather (not from flu), then that shouldn’t be a reason not to get the vaccine if you’re booked in. If you’re feeling very poorly though, again, you may need to wait until you’re better to have the vaccine.

Myth 5: I can only get the flu vaccine from my GP.

No – you can get it from other healthcare professionals too!

It’s not just your GP who can give you the vaccine. Many nurses and pharmacists can do so too. Lots of pharmacies are open for longer hours than your GP and can book appointments or provide a walk-in service for you to get your vaccine. Your GP can update your medical records if you let them know that you’ve had your vaccine at your local pharmacy.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

An image of Aamir Shaikh
Mr Aamir Shaikh
Chief Pharmaceutical Officer's Clinical Fellow at Bupa UK

    • Influenza. Recommended composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the 2019-2020 northern hemisphere influenza season. World Health Organization., accessed 15 October 2019
    • Influenza. The Green Book. Public Health England., published April 2019
    • The national flu immunisation programme 2019/20. Public Health England., published 22 March 2019
    • Clean hands protect against infection. World Health Organization., accessed 17 October 2019
    • Influenza (seasonal). World Health Organization., accessed 17 October 2019

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