The flu vaccine does not cause flu

Dr Bruce

Dr Bruce Warner is the deputy chief pharmaceutical officer at NHS England.


Last winter 63% of all frontline healthcare workers with direct patient contact received the seasonal influenza vaccine in England. 

It’s great that the number of NHS staff being vaccinated continues to grow year on year, however I can’t help but wonder why one-third of frontline staff still choose not to take up the vaccine? 

There are a number of myths about the flu vaccine that may be responsible for discouraging people from choosing to have it.  I’d like to talk about one of those myths now.

The flu vaccine does not cause flu

Many people believe that the flu vaccine causes you to have flu, and as a pharmacist, I can tell you it’s impossible to get flu from the flu vaccine because the adult vaccine doesn’t contain live viruses. 

While it is true that a small number of people can experience side effects such as headache or muscle pain, in this small number of cases this is the body’s immunity recognising the vaccine and creating a reaction. 

Although these symptoms can be uncomfortable, they will usually disappear within days after the injection, and most people do not feel much more than an achy arm.

It’s particularly important that healthcare workers get vaccinated, because we know that one in 4 are likely to become infected by flu, which is a higher risk than in the general population.

While you might be lucky enough to be ‘fighting fit’ and able to shake off the flu in a few days, there is the possibility that as a healthcare worker you may transfer it to someone more vulnerable, such as a pregnant woman, a small child or an asthmatic. As a result, they may have complications, such as pneumonia, meningitis and even, in a very small number of cases, death.

I hope the fear of getting ill doesn’t stop you from getting your vaccine. Please join #jabathon this year, get your flu jab to protect yourself, and do your bit to protect those who are most vulnerable.

Read more about the evidence for the flu jab.

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