Does the flu shot give you flu?

Flu season is on us right now, so you might be considering the flu jab. It’s a safe and effective vaccine against flu that is available on the NHS to people fulfilling criteria that we’ll outline later. Around 30 million people are eligible for it now. Last year, just 15 million Brits were offered the flu vaccine through the NHS. The government has increased its availability because of coronavirus. If you’re eligible, the NHS will get in touch, but we’ll break the new regulations down for you anyway.

Who’s eligible?

Anyone over the age of 65 can get a jab through the NHS. The government will extend this to anyone over 50, but they haven’t given a timescale for that change. Pre-schoolers under the age of two are also considered at risk, and primary school kids get the jab. Pregnant women and anyone with diabetes, heart failure and asthma are also eligible. Frontline workers also get the flu jab if they want one. If you’re not part of one of these at-risk groups, you can get the jab privately in pharmacies and some supermarkets for around £20. Some companies will pay for the jab, so consider speaking to your HR rep at work.

What is the flu jab?

There’s a misconception about the flu jab. Some believe that the flu jab contains flu which your body’s immune system wards off. By doing so, you become immune to the flu. That’s not the case. Well, not exactly. You don’t get flu when you have a flu shot, but the vaccine contains an inactive flu virus or a single protein from a flu virus. If you take the nasal spray, that contains live viruses, but they’re so weak that you won’t get ill from them.

How it works

So, the jab contains either inactive or very weak flu strain, and it does stimulate the body’s immune system to create antibodies that attack the flu virus, but that doesn’t mean it gives you flu. Antibodies, which are proteins that fight off germs that invade your blood, are created, so if you’re unwell after you take the jab, it’s likely you caught flu before you had the vaccine, or you’ve contracted something else.

Side effects

The flu vaccine is very safe. You might feel a slight temperature rise and have some muscle aches, but they’re minor side effects of the vaccine. Your arm may be sore where the needle entered. That’s especially true for anyone 65 or older. If your arm’s uncomfortable after the jab, don’t rest it. Continue to use it regularly. Take painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetamol.

Allergic reaction

An allergic reaction is very rare. A severe reaction, known as anaphylaxis, can happen within minutes. If so, you should still be with the person who gave you the jab. They will be trained to deal with it and treat it immediately.

Still unsure?

If you’re still unsure about the vaccine, consult with your GP or a nurse. You can also ask about it at a pharmacy or check out nhs.uk.

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