Myths and Facts about Flu and the Flu Vaccine
Whilst the influenza (flu) vaccine has been thoroughly researched for safety, there is still some speculation about its value and efficacy. Taking into account the extensive scientific research on the vaccine, here are some facts to dispel associated myths about the flu vaccine.
Myth: –Flu is just a bad cold
Fact – Colds and flu are caused by different strains of virus – Colds come on gradually (runny nose, then sore throat, then a cough) but flu symptoms come on rapidly, most commonly with a fever. Flu is a much more dangerous virus which can lead to serious infections and illness.
Myth: Flu is not serious so I do not need the vaccine
Fact: As many as 650 000 people a year can die of the flu. This only represents respiratory deaths, so the likely impact is even higher. Even healthy people can get the flu, but especially people whose immune systems are vulnerable. Most people will recover within a few weeks, but some can develop complications including sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, heart or brain inflammations.
Myth: The flu vaccine has not been tested, so it is not safe!
Fact – All vaccines, including flu vaccines, have to be tested before they can be licensed in the UK, and they have to be licensed before they can be used. In addition, flu vaccines have been in use since the 1960s, and millions of doses are administered every year. Like all medicines, some patients will experience side effects to flu vaccination, but these are generally mild and usually resolve without treatment.
Myth: Only old people get flu
Fact – Anyone of any age can catch flu, but older people, pregnant women and people who have certain long-term medical conditions like heart, lung, liver or kidney problems or lowered immunity. Healthcare workers are also at an increased risk of flu, especially those with direct clinical patient contact
Myth: You cannot catch flu if you are fit and healthy
Fact – Flu is very infectious and anyone can catch flu. Flu viruses are spread by coughing, spluttering, sneezing and other ways of sharing your germs. Regular and thorough hand washing is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of flu.
Myth: The flu vaccine can give me the flu
Fact: The injected flu vaccine contains an inactivated virus that cannot give you influenza. If you feel achy or slightly feverish, it is a normal reaction of the immune system to the vaccine, and generally lasts only a day or two.
Myth: The flu vaccine will stop me from catching a cold
Fact – No, it will not. The flu vaccine protects you against flu viruses. Colds are caused by other less serious viruses that are completely different from flu; you may still get winter colds after getting the flu vaccine, but you are much less likely to get flu itself.
Myth: I had the vaccine and still got the flu, so it does not work
Fact: Several flu viruses are circulating all the time, which is why people may still get the flu despite being vaccinated since the vaccine is specific to one strain. However, being vaccinated improves the chance of being protected from the flu. This is especially important to stop the virus affecting people with vulnerable immune systems.
Myth: It is dangerous for pregnant women and their babies to be vaccinated
Fact – During pregnancy, women are at greater risk of complications from flu, such as having a miscarriage or going into premature labour. The flu vaccine will protect you, your unborn child and can also protect your baby for three months after birth.
Myth: Antibiotics can cure flu
Fact – This is not true. Antibiotics kill bacteria, whereas flu is caused by viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics. The best way to protect yourself against flu is to get vaccinated as early as possible.
Myth: The flu vaccine protects you straight away
Fact – Typically, it takes about 10-14 days for you to be protected against flu after you get the vaccine – this means that you could be immunised and then pick up flu before you are fully protected. That is why it is best to get the vaccine as early as possible before there are lots of flu viruses circulating.
Myth: – The vaccine is not effective
Fact – Being immunised is the best protection available against an unpredictable virus that can cause severe illness.
Myth: The flu vaccine can cause severe side effects
Fact – The flu vaccine is proven to be safe and severe side effects are extremely rare.
Myth: The flu vaccination increases your risk of getting COVID-19
Fact – There is no current evidence that getting a flu vaccination increases your risk of getting COVID-19.
Myth: There is mercury in the vaccine
Fact – There may be a tiny amount of ethylmercury or ‘thiomersal’ left in it from the manufacturing process but, ethylmercury is completely safe. You would get more mercury from a single tuna sandwich than from the flu vaccine.
Myth: I am a healthy nurse and therefore feel that I should not get the vaccine.
Fact – It is particularly important for nurses and other healthcare workers to get the vaccine. It is the best defence against flu and will help stop you spreading it to your vulnerable patients, as well as your colleagues and family.