Dr Clare Morrison

Article by Dr Clare Morrison

Flu Jab Side Effects

It’s that time of year again. Yes, it’s flu season. As the nights draw in and the days get colder, the inevitable sniffles rise to the surface – raising concerns that mild fever and a cough could develop into full-blown flu.

After all, this can be extremely inconvenient. Of course it’s never great being ill, but there’s also the time factor to consider. In this hectic day and age, who can afford to be unwell for even a few days? There are things to be done, work to be complete, children to care for, food to be cooked. Not good.

Luckily there’s an answer. The flu jab. And even better news – it’s free on the NHS – for certain groups. These include children aged two to four years, pregnant women and anyone aged 65 or older. For everyone else, if you pop into your local Boots, Tesco or Sainsbury’s store (among others), you can get one and put your worries to rest for just £20. And if you’re not convinced, well, each year scientists from across the world assess the most likely threats from different flu strains to be included in the vaccine. As it keeps evolving, the vaccine from last year, may not be effective anymore. Unfortunately, flu viruses keep evolving!

Side effects of the flu jab

However, it’s important to bear in mind that there have been some concerns about the flu jab’s side effects. Although rare, some discomfort is possible, along with more serious side effects. While the benefits of the flu vaccine outweigh the risks of side effects, it’s important to be prepared. Potential side effects include:

  • Fever
  • Sniffles
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Sore, itchy eyes
  • Swelling where the shot was given
  • Muscle aches

You can deal with the side effects by taking painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, by adding heat to the affected area, moving the arm regularly to ensure it doesn’t get stiff and trying ice packs wrapped  in a towel if the arm feels hot and sore.

Who should not have the flu vaccine

There are some people who should not have the flu jab. These include:

  • People who have had allergic reactions in the past after a dose of flu vaccine
  • People who have egg allergy – some flu jabs are made using eggs (however, in recent years, flu jabs that are egg free have become available)
  • Children over the age of two who are eligible for an annual flu vaccination are usually given a nasal spray – however if they are unwell, they should only have it when they feel better. The vaccine is not recommended for children who have a weak immune system, egg allergy or severe asthma.

Alternatives to the flu include antiviral medication such as Tamiflu (this blocks the actions of influenza virus types A and B in your body.

Dr Clare Morrison
Dr Clare Morrison
Experienced General Practitioner in Hampshire since 1995, with particular interest in Nutrition, Obesity and Smoking Cessation.
Originally published September 22 2017, updated October 06 2018