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No, the flu shot does not give you the flu

There are a number of misconceptions and myths that surround influenza or flu as it is commonly called. They revolve around questions ranging from how serious influenza is to the efficacy of flu vaccines.

  • Is the Flu vaccine effective?
  • Are adverse reactions very serious?
  • I am healthy, I don’t need the flu shot
  • Do I need to have the vaccine each year?

The flu is responsible for around 1,500 deaths per year in Australia, as well as 118,000 cases requiring hospitalisation and 300,000 consultations with general practitioners[2]

Myth Vs Fact

Myth: Influenza is not a serious disease.

Fact: The flu can be a life-threatening disease that is also highly contagious. It is very different to the common cold, and it can take as long as two weeks for recovery from influenza, even among healthy young people. In fact, the flu is responsible for around 1,500 deaths per year in Australia, as well as 118,000 cases requiring hospitalisation and 300,000 consultations with general practitioners [2]. The death toll is equal to that for fatalities from traffic accidents in Australia.


Myth: The Flu shot can give you flu.

Fact: The flu vaccine contains no live viruses, which means that is not possible for it to cause the illness [4]


Myth: The flu vaccine simply isn’t effective.

Fact: Recent controlled trials that were randomised for providing meta-analyses [5], along with more local studies that were purely observational [6], showed that the vaccination was projected to deliver approximately 50–70% protection against the infection. In addition, protection could prove even better when the vaccine and circulating strains are matching. Furthermore, medical research evidence also shows that, even when they don’t match, there could be substantial cross-protection [7]. It is worth mentioning that there have been reports that the 2017 flu vaccine effectiveness was below the 50% mark.


Myth: A flu vaccination can cause adverse reactions that could be serious.

Fact: This is very rare. The most common reaction is swelling and redness that is localised to the injection site. Other symptoms, albeit mild ones, could include muscle soreness, a slight fever or a headache, and these generally only occur in 1–10% of individuals who receive the vaccination. However, patients who have had a severe allergic reaction to eggs should consult their GP before receiving a flu vaccination [4]


Myth: If you’re healthy then you don’t need a flu vaccination.

Fact: Anyone could get the flu, even if they’re quite healthy and fit. This could cost some people several days of missed work and income, but for high-risk individuals, it could result in a hospital visit and even death.


Myth: You should not get a flu vaccination when you’re sick.

Fact: Any minor illness that doesn’t involve a high fever doesn’t pose a risk that would prevent vaccination. This especially applies to groups of people who might suffer serious complications if they actually contracted the flu.


Myth: You are protected against avian flu just because you have received your annual flu vaccination.

Fact: Currently Australia has no incidences of bird flu, however, if it were to occur a special vaccination would be produced for protection against it. Despite the worldwide bird flu pandemic scare of recent years, more patients have passed away due to seasonal flu than have died over the past one hundred years during three flu pandemics [8].


References (
  1. National Institute of  Clinical Studies Influenza. Flu Facts. Found at:
  2. Newall A, et al. Economic report into the cost of influenza to the Australian health system. March 2007
  3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Causes of death Australia 2005: 3303.0 p30
  4. NHMRC. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition 2013. Available here
  5. Tricco et al. Comparing influenza vaccine efficacy against mismatched and matched strains: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Medicine 2013, 11:153
  6. Kelly et al. Moderate influenza vaccine effectiveness with variable effectiveness by match between circulating and vaccine strains in Australian adults aged 20–64 years, 2007–2011. IRV
  7. Manzoli et al. Effectiveness and harms of seasonal and pandemic influenza vaccines in children, adults and elderly. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics 7, 851–862; July 2012
  8. Wilschut J. & McElhaney J.E. Influenza. Elsevier Limited. Spain. 2005. p15


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