Can the flu jab make you feel ill? Side effects explained
12th October 2020

YOU'VE probably heard someone say they aren't getting the flu jab because it can make you feel ill.

In fact, a 2015 study found 43 per cent of people believed that getting the vaccine could give you the flu.

But the fact is, the flu jab doesn't make you sick.

Flu jabs are made with either inactivated – or killed – viruses, or with only a single protein from the flu virus, which will not be enough to cause illness.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and clinical director of Patient Access, told the Sun Online: "The flu vaccine does not contain any live virus so it physically cannot multiply when inside your body. Therefore, it cannot give you flu.

"There are several reasons people feel unwell after a flu jab.

"The first is, when you have the vaccine then your body mounts an immune response, so it reacts and starts working to make your body immune to it and that can make you feel a little bit coldy.

"But that is not the same as having the flu.

"The second thing is, we give the flu vaccine when lots of coughs and colds start – so a lot of people are already brewing a cold when they get the vaccine done.

"They don't realise they had a cold coming already, so when they get a cold a few weeks later they blame the flu jab."

What are the side effects?

Some people may experience some side effects to the vaccine, which can appear as flu-like symptoms.

However, they tend to be mild and should normally clear up without any treatment in a day or so.

According to the NHS, common side-effects to the flu vaccine can include:

  • A slightly raised temperature
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore arm where the needle went in – this is more likely to happen with the vaccine for people aged 65 and over

How can I protect myself from flu?

Public Health England warned that this year's flu outbreak could be more harmful than usual.

Findings from the Government agency's research found that catching flu and Covid-19 at the same time nearly doubles the risk of death.

The best way for vulnerable groups to get protected against the flu is to get the jab – and PHE aims to immunise 30 million people this winter in the largest flu vaccine programme Britain has ever undertaken.

But the vaccine is currently in short supply due to unprecedented demand caused by coronavirus.

High street pharmacies Boots and Lloyds have suspended bookings, while the waiting list at some GP surgeries stands at several weeks.

With that in mind, there are some important steps we can all take to protect ourselves and others from flu.

Here Dr Ben Littlewood-Hillsdon, chief medical officer of DoctorLink, shares his five top tips for beating the winter bug…

1. Keep up avoidance tactics

Some medical professionals believe flu levels could go down this year, with the whole population practising better and more frequent germ-avoidance tactics.

Remember everything we’ve been told to do throughout the pandemic is relevant more than ever – wash your hands thoroughly and often, with warm water and soap.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and take antibacterial gel with you whenever you leave the house.

Wearing a mask and keeping a social distance to others will also help you to avoid coming in contact with not only coronavirus, but the flu virus too.

2. Drink up

The body relies heavily on being hydrated to work at its very best, but its importance is vastly overlooked.

If you get dehydrated, the mucus layer in your respiratory tract and digestive tract can change and stop preventing germs from getting into your cells as well as it should.

Remember, both tea and coffee are diuretics, so they don’t count towards your water intake – stick to clear liquids when you’re aiming for the two litre rule.

3. Eat the rainbow

Eat a healthy, balanced diet rich in different coloured fruits and vegetables, to give your body a wide variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients to help it fight infection.

Eating fruits and vegetables whole, ideally with the skin on, will help you to get all the fibre your body needs to strengthen your digestive tract, which is crucial to fighting off bugs.

A varied diet will help you to get all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay strong, but in some cases, it may be advisable to supplement your diet too.

It’s difficult for us to get enough Vitamin D from sunlight in the UK, so the Government actually advises adults to take a daily 10 microgram vitamin D supplement during the winter months.

Zinc is an equally important mineral which we can only get through our diets.

It plays a role in hundreds of reactions in our bodies and is extremely important for fighting infection, so if you think you may not be getting enough Zinc through your diet, you might want to consider a supplement.

4. Keep moving

Exercise regularly and often. Movement is essential for your lymphatic system, which relies on muscle movement for stimulation.

It helps your immune cells to move around the body to fight germs that might be trying to get inside your tissues.

Strength training is also important for immunity as you age, muscle produces chemicals which work on the gland in which immune cells are made, so it’s important to not let this weaken and waste.

5. Don’t lose sleep over it

Getting enough sleep really is essential for a strong and healthy immune system.

Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines – a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation and so effectively creates the immune response.

Cytokines are also released during sleep, so it really is important to get enough shut eye.

Everyone needs a different number of hours of sleep each night to feel their best, but you should aim to have between seven and eight for your body to function optimally the next day.

If you think you might be experiencing symptoms of the flu, you can check your symptoms 24/7 with a digital triage tool such as Doctorlink, which will point you in the direction of the appropriate form of care.

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