I Got the Flu From The Flu Shot! Debunking a Common Myth

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The flu mist as seen here, cannot give you the flu. Image by the CDC.

The flu mist as seen here, cannot give you the flu. Image by the CDC.

Every year around October you begin seeing advertisements, and maybe even recommendations from your doctor. for getting the flu shot. That’s because the flu is most prevalent in the fall and winter.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone ages six months and older get the flu shot every year, there are various reasons for refusing the vaccine. Some of those reasons are based on rumors – such as, “I got the flu from the flu shot.”

Let’s take a look at the research, and debunk this popular myth.

How Does The Flu Shot Work?

The flu shot is made one of two ways, with dead virus particles or with recombinant virus proteins.

Inactivated Viruses: The first way to make a flu vaccine is by using tiny bits of ‘inactivated’ or dead viruses. Dead virus particles cannot replicate, and therefore cannot give you the flu.

Recombinant Proteins: The other way manufacturers make flu vaccines is with no flu virus at all. We call these vaccines, ‘recombinant influenza vaccines.’ Flublok and other manufacturers can make recombinant vaccines with a new technology that uses “insect virus (baculovirus) expression system and recombinant DNA technology” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

This flu shot uses insects to grow the influenza virus protein called hemagglutinin, also the main ingredient in the inactivated flu shots. This technology, while new to the influenza vaccine industry, has been used in other infectious disease vaccinations, but is only recommended for adults ages 18 to 49 years of age. 

Flu Mist: Live Vaccine

The flu mist is a little different story, but still cannot give you the flu. Manufacturers make the nasal spray vaccine with living flu viruses. However, they weaken the virus in the lab to make it unable to effectively reproduce and cause illness.

The flu shot cannot give you the flu either. Image by the CDC.

The flu shot cannot give you the flu either. Image by the CDC.

According to the CDC, these weakened viruses are also ‘cold-adapted’ which means that they can only cause a mild infection in places of cooler temperatures such as the nose, and cannot infect warmer parts of the body such as the lungs.

Flu Shot Symptoms and Side Effects

The side effects of the flu shot a low grade fever and body aches, and side effects of the nasal mist can include runny nose, nasal congestion, cough, chills, tiredness, sore throat, and/or headache – so if you feel like you got sick after getting the flu vaccine, that may be what you’re experiencing. However, it’s important to note that these side effects are considerably less severe than symptoms of the actual flu and only last a day or two.

Once you get your flu shot it takes your body two weeks to develop an immune response; during this time it is possible to get the flu before your immune system has had a chance to develop its own protection plan against the virus. 

Explaining Flu-like Symptoms

You can experience flu-like symptoms even if you’ve been vaccinated. Whether you’ve really just got a cold, or are reacting to the vaccine, flu-like symptoms aren’t the same thing as the actual flu. On the other hand – the flu vaccine doesn’t cover all strains, and isn’t completely effective, so it’s possible that you may catch a variety of flu that the manufacturers didn’t put in the vaccine that year.

Although there’s no guarantee that getting the flu shot will keep you from getting the flu, it’s an absolute impossibility that flu vaccination will cause the flu.

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