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Learn the facts about flu


This winter, with the combined risk of flu and COVID-19, it is important to get your flu vaccination.

You may have concerns about getting your flu jab or have heard rumours that make you feel uncomfortable or worried. Make sure you know the facts.

These are common myths you may hear:

The flu is not serious, so I don’t need the vaccine.

The flu can be a serious and sometimes fatal illness which may lead to hospital treatment, especially if your immune system is vulnerable.

However, even healthy people can get the flu and develop complications including sinus and ear infections, pneumonia and heart or brain inflammation.

The flu vaccine can give me the flu.

The injected flu vaccine contains an inactivated virus that cannot give you the flu. 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.

The flu vaccine for children is a nasal spray (sprayed into the nose), not an injection. This live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) contains live forms of flu virus which have been weakened (attenuated). These stimulate the immune system but do not cause disease in healthy people.

The flu vaccine can cause severe side effects.

The flu vaccine is proven to be safe and severe side effects are extremely rare.

A very rare side effect is Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) a neurological condition which may cause muscle weakness and paralysis.

I had the vaccine and still got the flu, so it doesn’t work.

Several flu viruses are circulating all the time, which is why you may still get the flu despite being vaccinated. However, getting your flu jab improves your chance of being protected against the flu.

The flu vaccine is updated every year to take account of the different flu viruses. During the last 10 years, the vaccine has generally been a good match for the circulating strains of flu.

I am pregnant so shouldn’t get the flu vaccine.

It is very important that if you are pregnant you get the flu vaccine, because your immune system is weaker than usual. The inactivated flu vaccine is safe at any stage of your pregnancy.

Only old people get flu.

Anyone of any age can catch flu – but you are more at risk of serious complications if you are over 65 years old, you have long-term medical conditions like heart, lung, liver or kidney problems or you have lowered immunity due to an illness, a treatment or because you are pregnant.

Healthcare professionals working closely with patients are also at greater risk and should have their flu vaccine.

The flu vaccine hasn’t been tested, it’s not safe!

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.

Flu vaccines have been in use since the 1960s and they are one of the most commonly administered medicines.

Like all medicines, you may experience side effects when you get your flu vaccine, but these are generally mild and usually go away in a day or two without needing treatment.

There’s mercury in the vaccine.

There is no mercury present in the vaccine. One vaccine may have 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.

Flu is just a bad cold.

Colds and flu are caused by different strains of virus and the effects vary hugely. Colds start gradually (runny nose, then sore throat, then a cough) but flu hits you straight away and most commonly starts with a fever. With the flu, you can expect to have a fever, headaches, extreme tiredness, cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body aches.

The flu is a much more dangerous virus than a cold. This is because it is a contagious disease of the nose, throat, and lungs that can lead to complications including pneumonia, bronchitis, meningitis and encephalitis. It can also cause chronic conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes, to get worse.

Even healthy people can be ill for up to two weeks with the flu and it can disrupt your work and social plans.

The flu spreads easily from person to person and you can spread it even if you are not showing any symptoms. People of all ages are seriously affected by flu every year. Protect yourself and others by having your flu vaccine.

Antibiotics can cure flu.

This is not true. Antibiotics kill bacteria. Flu is caused by viruses, which don’t respond to antibiotics.

Sometimes people who experience complications as a result of flu can be given antibiotics because they develop a bacterial infection (such as pneumonia) – but this is not flu itself. Instead, it is the result of the body being weakened by the virus and letting bacteria take hold.

Getting my flu jab will protect me straight away.

It actually takes about two weeks 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. The best way to protect yourself and others against flu is to get vaccinated as early as possible and before there are lots of flu viruses circulating. The vaccine is available from September to March.

Why can’t my child who is under two years old have a nasal spray flu vaccine?

The nasal spray vaccine is not licensed for children younger than 2 because it can be linked to wheezing in children this age.

It isn’t safe to visit my GP surgery or pharmacy, so I won’t go in for my flu vaccine.

It is safe to visit your GP surgery or a pharmacy. Staff will wear Personal Protective Equipment and clean the room they are in to keep you safe. Follow any guidance they give you and don’t visit if you have COVID symptoms.

Don’t take the risk of catching or spreading the flu this winter. Protect yourself and others by having your flu vaccine. More information about who should have the flu vaccination can be found at