10 myths about flu and the flu vaccine

There are many myths surrounding flu and the flu vaccine. Here are 10 common flu myths and the truth behind them.

The flu vaccine is available on the NHS for adults and children who are considered "at risk". 

The injected flu vaccine (or flu jab) is available for anyone aged 65 and over, mums-to-be at any stage of pregnancy and people with a long-term health condition.

The nasal spray flu vaccine is recommended for all two, three and four-year-olds and children in school years one, two and three plus children aged from 2 to 17 with a long-term health condition.

Find out which adults should have the flu vaccine and which children can have the flu vaccine.

1. Having flu is just like having a heavy 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. If you get complications caused by flu, you could become seriously ill and have to go to hospital.

2. Having the flu vaccine gives you flu

No, it doesn't. The injected flu vaccine that is given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses, so it can't give you flu. Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, but other reactions are very rare.

Read more about how the injected flu vaccine works.

The children's flu nasal spray vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses that will not give your child flu.

Read more about how the children's flu vaccine works.

3. Flu can be treated with antibiotics

No, it can't. Viruses cause flu, and antibiotics only work against bacteria. You may be prescribed antiviral medicines to treat your flu. Antivirals do not cure flu, but 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.

Find out more about why antibiotics won't work against flu.

4. Once you've had the flu vaccine, you're protected for life

No, you aren't. The viruses that cause flu can change every year, so you need a vaccination each year that matches the new viruses. The vaccine usually provides protection for the duration of the flu season that year.

Read more about what's in this winter's flu vaccine.

5. I'm pregnant, so I shouldn't have the flu jab because it will affect my baby

You should have the vaccine whatever stage of pregnancy you are in. If you're pregnant, you could get very ill if you get flu, which could also be bad for your baby. Having the jab can also protect your baby against flu after they're born and during the early months of life.

Read more about the flu jab in pregnancy.

6. The flu jab won't protect me against swine flu

Yes, it will. This year's flu vaccine protects against three different flu viruses, including the H1N1 swine flu virus. This is because the virus is expected to be circulating this year.

7. Children can't have the flu vaccine

Yes they can!

The nasal spray flu vaccine is recommended on the NHS for all healthy two, three and four-year-old children plus children in school years one, two and three.

In addition, children "at risk" of serious illness if they catch the flu are eligible for a flu vaccine on the NHS. This includes children with a pre-existing illness such as a respiratory or neurological condition and children who are having treatment that weakens their immune system such as chemotherapy.

The flu vaccine is generally given to children aged 6 months to 2 years as an injection and to children aged 2 to 17 years as a nasal spray.

The flu vaccine isn't suitable for babies under the age of six months.

Read more about which children can have the flu vaccine.

8. I've had the flu already this autumn, so I don't need the vaccination this year

You do need it if you're in one of the risk groups.

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

9. If I missed having the flu jab in October, it's too late to have it later in the year

No, it's not too late. It's better to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, usually in October, but it's always worth getting vaccinated before flu comes around right up until March.

10. Vitamin C can prevent flu

No, it can't. Many people think that taking daily vitamin C supplements will stop them getting flu, but there's no evidence to prove this.

Read the answers to some common questions about flu and the flu vaccine.

Page last reviewed: 15/10/2014

Next review due: 10/07/2017


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 342 ratings

All ratings

218  ratings
60  ratings
20  ratings
12  ratings
32  ratings

Add your rating

Media last reviewed:

Next review due:

Colds and flu

The difference between a cold and flu, remedies and who needs to have the flu jab

The flu jab

Flu is highly infectious – but the annual flu jab can help prevent it

Flu and the flu vaccine

Your guide to flu symptoms and the flu vaccine, including who should be vaccinated this winter

Children's flu vaccine

The children's nasal spray flu vaccine is for two-, three- and four-year-olds, and children in school years one, two and three, plus children with long-term health problems

Winter health

Tips and advice on how to stay healthy and well through the cold, dark days of winter