Can a flu vaccine give you the flu?
No, flu vaccines cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle (i.e., flu shots) are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and that therefore are not infectious, or b) using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection. This is the case for recombinant influenza vaccines.
Are any of the available flu vaccines recommended over the others?
For the 2019-2020 flu season, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends annual influenza (flu) vaccination for everyone 6 months and older with any licensed, influenza vaccine that is appropriate for the recipient’s age and health status, including inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV), recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV), or live attenuated nasal spray influenza vaccine (LAIV4) with no preference expressed for any one vaccine over another.
There are many vaccine options to choose from, but the most important thing is for all people 6 months and older to get a flu vaccine every year. If you have questions about which vaccine is best for you, talk to your doctor or other health care professional.
Is it better to get the flu than the flu vaccine?
No. Flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes. Any flu infection can carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death, even among otherwise healthy children and adults. Therefore, getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking illness to obtain immune protection.
Do I really need a flu vaccine every year?
Yes. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for just about everyone 6 months and older, even when the viruses the vaccine protects against have not changed from the previous season. The reason for this is that a person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get the “optimal” or best protection against the flu.
Why do some people not feel well after getting the seasonal flu vaccine?
Some people report having mild reactions to flu vaccination. The most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days. In randomized, blinded studies, where some people get inactivated flu shots and others get salt-water shots, the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat.
Side effects from the nasal spray flu vaccine may include: runny nose, wheezing, headache, vomiting, muscle aches, fever, sore throat and cough. If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after vaccination and are mild and short-lived. The most common reactions people have to flu vaccines are considerably less severe than the symptoms caused by actual flu illness.
- Carolyn Bridges et al. (2000). Effectiveness and cost-benefit of influenza vaccination of healthy working adults: A randomized controlled trial.
- Kristin Nichol et al. (1995). The effectiveness of vaccination against influenza in healthy working adults. New England Journal of Medicine. 333(14): 889-893.
What about serious reactions to flu vaccine?
Serious allergic reactions to flu vaccines are very rare. If they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination. While these reactions can be life-threatening, effective treatments are available.
What about people who get a seasonal flu vaccine and still get sick with flu symptoms?
There are several reasons why someone might get a flu symptoms, even after they have been vaccinated against flu.
1. One reason is that some people can become ill from other respiratory viruses besides flu such as rhinoviruses, which are associated with the common cold, cause symptoms similar to flu, and also spread and cause illness during the flu season. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza, not other illnesses.
2. Another explanation is that it is possible to be exposed to influenza viruses, which cause the flu, shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after vaccination that it takes the body to develop immune protection. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.
3. A third reason why some people may experience flu like symptoms despite getting vaccinated is that they may have been exposed to a flu virus that is very different from the viruses the vaccine is designed to protect against. The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends largely on the similarity or “match” between the viruses selected to make the vaccine and those spreading and causing illness. There are many different flu viruses that spread and cause illness among people. For more information, see Influenza (Flu) Viruses.
4. The final explanation for experiencing flu symptoms after vaccination is that the flu vaccine can vary in how well it works and some people who get vaccinated may still get sick.
Can vaccinating someone twice provide added immunity?
In adults, studies have not shown a benefit from getting more than one dose of vaccine during the same influenza season, even among elderly persons with weakened immune systems. Except for some children, only one dose of flu vaccine is recommended each season.
Is it true that getting a flu vaccine can make you more susceptible to other respiratory viruses?
There was one study (published in 2012) that suggested that influenza vaccination might make people more susceptible to other respiratory infections. After that study was published, many experts looked into this issue further and conducted additional studies to see if the findings could be replicated. No other studies have found this effect. For example, this article [99 KB, 5 pages] in Clinical Infectious Diseases (published in 2013). It’s not clear why this finding was detected in the one study, but the preponderance of evidence suggests that this is not a common or regular occurrence and that influenza vaccination does not, in fact, make people more susceptible to other respiratory infections.