Can a Flu Vaccine Give You the Flu?

Paul A. Offit, MD, talks about the misconception that the influenza vaccine can cause influenza.


Can a flu vaccine give you the flu?

Paul Offit, MD: Hi, my name’s Paul Offit. I’m talking to you today from the Vaccine Education Center here at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. A common misconception about vaccines is whether the influenza, or flu vaccine, can give you the flu. It can’t.

The way that that vaccine is made is the flu virus is grown up in eggs, it’s then purified. It’s then completely inactivated with a chemical. So that virus can’t possibly reproduce itself. Therefore it can’t possibly cause the signs and symptoms of influenza, which is upper respiratory tract symptoms, such as congestion, and cough, and runny nose. Or lower respiratory tract symptoms, so-called pneumonia. Because the virus can’t reproduce itself in cells of the body, it can’t cause the kinds of signs and symptoms that typically occur with the flu.

I mean, sometimes you can get low-grade fever or some achiness with flu vaccines, but that’s not flu. I mean, you know, as a medical student, what we learned about flu is that if the medical student wants to know what it’s really like to be sick, they should get influenza. Because influenza, you can often date the hour in which it started. It’s with headache, fever, shaking chills, that then progresses to upper respiratory and occasionally lower respiratory tract infection, pneumonia.

Flu is not subtle. And the subtle signs and symptoms that one can develop for flu vaccine are not flu.

Hope that helps, thanks.

Related Centers and Programs: Vaccine Education Center

Last Reviewed on Jul 18, 2016