News story

Flu vaccine: myths and the facts behind them

Scientists at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC) dispel some of the common myths about flu vaccines.

Flu vaccine

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. There may be minor, fleeting reactions to the injection like a sore arm or slight temperature but these are common reactions to any kind of injection. Any cough or cold that appears after you get the flu vaccine was probably already in your system or caught at the same time.

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.

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.

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.

You can only get it from your doctor

While you can get the vaccination from your GP, many pharmacists have also been trained to administer the vaccination.

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.

Published 21 January 2016