Flu vaccinations… are they safe?

It’s that time of year again when the Internet becomes awash with articles touting the dangers of the flu vaccine. Articles on unreliable, alarmist and misleading sites rally against the toxins found in vaccines, or claim the vaccination doesn’t work, at best, and causes a list of horrible diseases, at worst. These are merely myths, with the benefits of the vaccination far outweighing the only known side effect of the vaccination – mild muscle soreness.

For the majority of people who catch influenza, it may be an unpleasant week or two, losing school or work and missing on going out. However for some people it is far more serious and it can lead to chest infections, severe complications and even death. Globally, seasonal influenza accounts for about three to five million causes of severe illness annually and between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths.

The best protection you can get is to take the vaccine. There are some important facts to know about the vaccine:

  • The flu vaccine is safe 

The risk of having a serious reaction to the seasonal flu vaccine is less than one in a million: much lower than the risk of getting seriously ill from having the flu itself. If you have had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a flu vaccine before, please talk to a clinician before getting vaccinated.

  • The vaccine is one of the safest in the world 

Seasonal flu vaccine is given to millions of people around the globe each year. The specific strains of flu that are included may change from one year to the next according to what is predicted to be circulating but vaccines are still thoroughly tested and are safe.

  • The influenza jab can’t give you the influenza illness 

It is impossible to get flu from the having the influenza jab because the vaccine doesn’t contain live viruses. A very small number of people experience side effects such as aching muscles, but this is simply the immune system responding to the vaccine.

  • The side effects of the vaccination are mild

For the most part, seasonal flu vaccine side effects are mild or often non-existent. The most common side effect is soreness around the site of the injection and occasionally aching muscles. These symptoms are a lot less serious than having flu.

  • Health professionals need to protect patients  

If you are a health care professional, vaccination isn’t just about keeping yourself safe, it’s about protecting your colleagues, your family and your patients. You can carry and pass the virus on to others without having any symptoms yourself, so even if you consider yourself healthy, you might be risking the lives of others.

vaccine

  • You need the vaccine every year

If you were vaccinated last year you helped to fight the flu. You will need the vaccine again this year as immunity wanes.

  • Vaccination works

The World Health Organization cites clean water and vaccination as the two interventions that have the greatest impact on public health – vaccination works. Trivalent seasonal influenza vaccines generally give 60–80% protection against infection.

  • Pregnant women can be vaccinated 

Pregnant women can have the influenza vaccination. Having the vaccination when pregnant is beneficial and helps protect the baby from influenza over the first few months of life.

  • Healthy diets won’t prevent flu 

Your diet could well be helping to boost your immune system, but eating well will not protect you from flu. The best way to protect yourself, family and patients against flu is by getting the influenza jab.

  • Hand washing is very important, but it won’t stop influenza 

It is vital to follow universal infection prevention procedures and wash your hands, but once flu has been passed on to your family, colleagues or your patients, clean hands won’t keep influenza at bay.

  • Anyone can get the flu 

One of the most common reasons for not getting vaccinated is “I’ve never had flu before”. There’s no such thing as natural immunity to influenza; with new strains circulating this year, it’s best to get vaccinated against influenza.

 

Dr Charmaine Gauci