Fact or Fiction

Test your flu knowledge with some common assumptions about the flu.

Flu is like a bad cold

Heck no, flu is not the same as a cold. It’s a serious disease that can also make other existing conditions, such as breathing or heart problems, even worse, with some people ending up in hospital and some dying. In New Zealand around 400 people die from flu-related illness a year.

Older people, pregnant women and their babies and people with certain medical conditions are more likely to have medical complications from influenza.

Influenza in pregnancy increases the risks of premature birth, low birth weight, miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects.

Getting the flu shot every year helps reduce these risks.

I never get sick so I don’t need a vaccine

Maybe you’ll be lucky forever but 80 percent of people infected show no symptoms so you can spread the flu bug without knowing you have it – and the elderly, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions are particularly vulnerable. Protect the people you care about and get your flu shot.

Flu vaccines don’t work

The flu shot prevents flu OR reduces the severity of the illness for many people. Like all vaccines, influenza vaccine is not 100% effective in everyone. Effectiveness depends on several factors, including the age and immune status of the recipient, as well as the match between circulating vaccine strains and the vaccine. It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to start providing protection.

Getting the flu shot every year is still your best protection against the flu or passing it on.

Flu vaccines aren’t safe

The vaccine cannot give you influenza. The vaccine stimulates the immune system to make antibodies that protect against circulating viruses. Most people have no reaction to the vaccine. Occasionally the site where the vaccination was given is red or sore for a day or two. Some people may feel unwell for a day or two. These are normal responses to the immunisation. A severe allergic reaction occurs around once in a million vaccine doses. To be safe, you’re advised to stay at the site you get your flu shot for 20 minutes after it’s given in the very rare case of a reaction.

Flu vaccine has mercury in it

Nope. It does not contain thiomersal (or any other mercury product).

I have an egg allergy so I can't have the flu shot

Actually you can! The vaccine can be safely administered to people with a history of egg allergy or egg anaphylaxis. Studies have shown that influenza vaccines containing less than one microgram of ovalbumin do not trigger anaphylaxis in sensitive individuals. The residual ovalbumin in one dose of the 2018 vaccines is significantly below this limit.

I have to take time off work/school to get the flu shot

Not necessarily. Check with your GP team for available times. Flu shots are also available from some pharmacists – some may be open in the weekend. Check out the Getting Vaccinated page

Flu shot gives you the flu

Nope. You can’t get flu from the vaccine because there are no live viruses in the vaccine. If you get the flu straight after it means you were likely already infected as it take up to two weeks for the vaccine to start providing protection.

The flu shot hurts

Your arm can hurt for a day or two at most around the injection site – but it hurts A LOT less and for far less time than getting the flu!

I think I have natural immunity from the flu

When a flu virus enters your body, the immune system fights the infection by producing antibodies. They can then fight flu again IF the same strain of the virus returns. That protection can sometimes last forever. BUT:

  • Natural flu infection will very likely make you sick.
  • Even if you are healthy, you could put your family and others in your community at risk for infection by not getting vaccinated as you can carry it without feeling ill.
  • Flu viruses evolve quickly and can change from year to year, and several strains of virus typically circulate in any given year. Natural immunity to one flu virus won’t protect you from most other strains. The flu vaccine is updated annually to target the strains most likely to circulate.
  • There’s no guarantee you’ll get a robust immune response from flu infection. It depends on several factors, including your previous exposure to flu viruses, your body’s immune response and how much of the virus you’re exposed to.

Getting the flu shot every year is your best protection against the flu.