Truthful questions and answers

Below are the most common questions our staff are asked at clinics:

Does the flu vaccine give you flu?

The flu vaccine given to adults and healthcare workers in Northern Ireland is inactivated and CANNOT give you flu.

Most people do not experience any side effects and if they do, these side effects are usually a mild soreness at the injection site or a slightly raised temperature.

Mild flu-like symptoms may occur in some people and usually last no more than a day or two. These symptoms can include mild fever, headache and aching muscles.

Do I need to get the vaccine again as I got it last year?

It is important to get vaccinated every year as the flu strains included can change. New vaccines are made each year based on the strains most likely to be present in the community.

Yearly vaccination is recommended as immunity from flu vaccination is not long lasting.

Do I need to get the vaccine now or should I leave it a week or two?

It is best to get the vaccine as soon as you can so you are protected as soon as possible. The most effective time to get it is from the beginning of October to the end of November.

I read somewhere there was a shortage of vaccines in Northern Ireland. Can I get it?

There is more than enough vaccine for everyone who should get it - there is not a shortage.

There is a flu vaccine called Fluad® which is only for those aged over 65. It is being delivered to GP surgeries in batches from Sept-Nov. Everyone who is eligible to get this vaccine will still be able to get it by the end of November, which is generally before flu circulation will increase. People should contact their GP surgery to clarify arrangements. There will be enough of this vaccine available for everyone who should get it this winter, and while people may not get it as early as they have in other years, they will still be receiving it well before flu circulation increases.

Does getting the vaccine weaken your immune system?

The vaccine prepares and boosts your immune system to help fight the virus if you are exposed to it. People who get the vaccine every year are better protected against flu than those who do not get vaccinated.

Does the vaccine even work? I got it last year and still got the worst flu I ever had

There are many different strains of flu and the vaccine helps protect against the most common strains expected to occur each year, some of which are very dangerous. The vaccine takes up to two weeks to work.

It is important to remember that the vaccine does not contain any ‘live’ strains of the viruses and can not give you the flu. For those who get the flu, despite being vaccinated, their illness is usually much less severe.

Does getting the vaccine hurt?

No, there is a mild sting when given the injection and it is over very quickly.

Is it necessary, is the flu not just a bad cold?

A bad bout of flu is much worse than a heavy cold. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and sometimes severely. They include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles, as well as a cough and sore throat.

You're likely to spend two or three days in bed at least - if nothing else, think of the inconvenience of having to miss work, arrange childcare etc. If you get complications caused by flu, you could become seriously ill and have to go to hospital. Last year 119 people were admitted into ICU in Northern Ireland and 22 died. Some of these people were otherwise healthy until they caught the flu. The vaccine is the best method of defense against flu.

Can flu not just be cured with antibiotics when you get it instead of getting an injection?

Flu is caused by viruses – antibiotics only work against bacteria. You may be prescribed antiviral medicines to treat your flu but they don't cure it. They can make you less infectious to others and reduce the length of time you may be ill.

To be effective, antivirals have to be given within a day or two of your symptoms appearing. A bacterial infection may occur as a result of having the flu, in which case you may be given antibiotics.

Treatment is not always effective and the flu can result in severe complications.

HSC Staff - why should I get an injection because my employer wants me to?

You are the person with most to gain by getting the vaccine and most to lose by not getting it.

Nobody would want to purposely put themselves and those around them at risk unnecessarily. Remember, you can spread the flu to people even if you don't have symptoms and feel perfectly well. Think about all the vulnerable people who you come into contact with, both in your family such as new babies or elderly relatives and at work. Getting vaccinated helps to protect them all, as well as yourself.

There is a range of research to support the vaccination of healthcare workers http://www.nhsemployers.org/campaigns/flu-fighter/nhs-flu-fighter/why-it-matters.

I had the flu already this year, do I still need it?

Even if you think you've had flu, you should still have the vaccination.

As flu is caused by several viruses, the immunity you naturally developed will only protect you against one of them – you could go on to catch another strain, so it's recommended you have the vaccine even if you've recently had flu. Also, what you thought was flu could have been something else.

Do I need to get the vaccine, I take vitamin C and look after myself

This may help you be healthier generally, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest it protects against flu. You still should get the vaccine.

I am healthy, why do I need to get it?

Getting vaccinated will lower the chances of you becoming infected yourself and passing flu on to those who are most likely to develop complications.

Does the flu vaccine cause severe reactions or side effects?

The flu vaccine is very safe. Most people experience no symptoms after their vaccination. Some people may experience some redness or soreness at the area where the injection was given.

Mild flu-like symptoms may occur in some people and usually last no more than a day or two. These symptoms can include mild fever, headache and aching muscles.

Very rarely, the flu vaccination can result in an immediate allergic reaction. Those giving the vaccine are trained to help treat such reactions if they occur. You will be asked about your allergies and vaccination history before you get it. People who had a severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccine in the past should not be vaccinated again

I have an allergy to eggs, can I get the vaccine?

Speak to Occupational Health or your GP about your allergy before going for the vaccination.

Do I have to pay for it?

The flu vaccine is offered free to all health and social care staff and to other at risk groups in Northern Ireland. Some pharmacies and other places offer the vaccine at a cost.

Page last updated:24 October 2018