Flu vaccines are available and so that means that the anti-vaccine brigade is out in force.

The Daily Mail published a rambling anti-vaccine op-ed by a former reality TV contestant named Katie Hopkins. It was followed by a shorter counter argument by a doctor, but when you are given less than half the word count and are at the bottom of the page it is hard to mount an effective response. Hopefully the Daily Mail will give us an op-ed next week on how the earth is flat.

I noticed many responses to Ms. Hopkins on Twitter were from people who claimed that they previously caught the flu from the vaccine.

So one more time, for all the kids in the back…


The flu vaccine is made with an inactivated virus that cannot cause illness or with a process using a recombinant technology that contains no virus at all.

The nasal spray, not recommended currently in the United States due to lower efficacy, also can’t cause the flu. It does have a live virus, but it is highly weakened and can’t cause infection.

Children should absolutely get the vaccine. In the 2016-2017 flu season over 100 children in the United States died from the flu. Over 80% of those who died were not vaccinated.

If you get sick right after the flu vaccine one of the following has happened:

  1. You have a cold and you have mistaken it for the flu.
  2. You have the flu, but you were incubating it before the vaccine. The vaccine takes about 2 weeks to work.
  3. You have the flu and were unlucky enough to get a strain not covered by the vaccine.
  4. You have the flu and it is a strain that is covered by the vaccine, but you did not get as sick as you would have without the vaccine.
  5. Nocebo effect. You expected something bad to happen and so your body produced symptoms.

If you aren’t sure it is the flu let me tell you it isn’t the flu. With the flu you really feel as if you are going to die. It’s that bad. I had it several years ago and for two days I had to crawl to the bathroom. I was too weak to walk.

So let’s PLEASE put this myth to rest.

The flu vaccine doesn’t cause the flu.

And one more thing. Dear Press, please stop using photos of screaming kids in vaccine stories. Here is my son Victor seconds after his flu vaccine this weekend. The needle had just been removed. Feel free to use it with attribution!


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  1. I need to get my kids vaccinated soon so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about how a flu shot can’t actually give you the flu. I was worried they might catch it from this so I’ll keep this in mind when I take them in.

  2. While I wholeheartedly support vax…doesn’t ANY vaccine provoke an an immune response, which may make someone fell ill? We’re warned about fever for various jabs in our children…isn’t the point that it tickles the immune system to fight it, and by extension, you’ll get mild infection symptoms? Great work by the way, yo’re on eo of my heroines

  3. Pedantic question: what is a LIVE virus? I was taught (several decades ago) that viruses (unlike bacteria) weren’t alive, that they are something like very complex catalytic poisons. Is a “live” virus a big molecule capable of catalysing a living cell into replicating the virus whereas a non-“live” one has similar chemistry, esp. on its outer surface, but cannot catalyse for some reason?

    So is a “live” virus like a live firearm round (which is certainly not a living organism)?

  4. For every American that has a problem with vaccines in general, please ask them to come on over and live in India vaccine free. Here you would see the actual benefit and impact of a vaccine, and how it’s a necessity and not a conspiracy that you have access to that kind of medication. Till recently we were not polio free. 25,000 children died this year of Japanese Encephalitis even though there is a vaccine for it.
    I am not a medical professional, but every time I read about these vaccine denialists, my blood boils.
    PS. Love your blog Dr. Jen!

  5. I get the flu shot every year, and I also feel sick after it every year. I understand that I’m not getting the flu, but the CDC does say that common side effects of the shot are headache, fever, nausea, and muscle aches. If those are common side effects, it seems fair to say that the shot can make you feel sick even if it is not causing the flu. Here is the link to the CDC site that mentions the common side effects: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/general.htm

  6. Dr Gunter – is there any evidence that the vaccine temporarily weakens the immune system (perhaps due to the extra workload)?

  7. Dr. Gunter – have you seen this study about new mothers eating the placenta? It seems crazy yet young women are doing this. Here’s the link: https://www.technologynetworks.com/applied-sciences/news/the-placenta-is-not-a-super-food-293237?utm_campaign=NEWSLETTER_TN_Food%20%26%20Beverage%20Analysis_2017&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=57774576&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-_dTNBp8WzrClTWSyJLTYllUy_P2j7wHpLzDAA0qdOU588HK6EhpRLUsCy7EtZVVwqJ7MQpKysidFeO62HbmnIU3cwx4w&_hsmi=57774576

    I love your blog and appreciate your taking the time to promote accurate science.


    Denise Canellos, MS, CNS denise@denisecanellos.com http://www.denisecanellos.com denise.canellos – Skype 949-681-8261 – Office

    Privileged and Confidential Communication.This electronic transmission, and any documents attached hereto, (a) are protected by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (18 USC §§ 2510-2521), (b) may contain confidential and/or legally privileged information, and (c) are for the sole use of the intended recipient named above. If you have received this electronic message in error, please notify the sender and delete the electronic message. Any disclosure, copying, distribution, or use of the contents of the information received in error is strictly prohibited.

    On Sun, Oct 15, 2017 at 11:11 AM, Dr. Jen Gunter wrote:

    > Dr. Jen Gunter posted: “Flu vaccines are available and so that means that > the anti-vaccine brigade is out in force. The Daily Mail published a > rambling anti-vaccine op-ed by a former reality TV contestant named Katie > Hopkins. It was followed by a shorter counter argument by a” >

  8. There are also a whole lot of people who think “flu” means “stomach flu,” so they think the vomiting-and-diarrhea stuff they got was from the flu shot. (Apparently children do sometimes get gastro symptoms AS WELL AS the respiratory stuff, but otherwise, no, NOT INFLUENZA.)

  9. This reply is to no one specific, but I do hope it is read and absorbed. Imagination is a wonderful but, dangerous thing. You cannot get the ‘flu from having the ‘flu injection as there is “NO LIVE VIRUS.” I have been having the ‘flu injection since I was 30, I am now 68 and I have never had any side effects whatsoever. Imagining you have one specifiic ailment when it is another is such an easy mistake to make, but you should be sure of your facts first. Do not run the ‘flu injection down as the “FLU IS A KILLER.”

  10. I have asthma.
    My daughter has a congenital heart defect.

    We’re both in groups that have an almost mandatory recommendation to have an annual flu shot, as complications from the actual flu could be quite severe for us.

    Convincing my husband, who “never” gets sick, to get the flu shot has been the work of nearly 8 years’ worth of cajoling and cussing.

  11. You can actually get a proinflammatory cytokine reaction to the flu vaccine or any vaccine really. I think this is where many patients mistake having the flu.

  12. I didn’t get a flu shot for many years because I was sick after the first one. Then a friend finally convinced me that my illness was coincidental, and that after I had the flu (no I didn’t die, but I wanted to and might have crawled to the oven and stuck my head in except I have electric) 3 times in a 4 month period, I really should stop acting like a brainless idiot and get the vaccine. So, now I get the vaccine every year, and I’ve still had flu twice (in 8 years), but never 3 times in 4 months, so I think it’s worth it since I seem to be a flu virus magnet. Never being that sick that often again is worth the arm pain that lasts a few days and not even that long if I put cold packs on it and rub gently.

  13. My response has always been “When did you last hear of someone getting tetanus from a tetanus shot?” The answer is obvious. I try and point out that the chances are exactly the same as the flu shot. Impossible! It is as simple as the fact we get flu shots in a viral season when many of us come down with a cold or even the flu. Makes me feel better but those who live by confirmation bias are not easily dissuaded by logic.

  14. The problem is of course compounded by the fact that most people have no idea what the flu actually is and think that its literally the same as or indistiguishable from a mild cold.
    Its really confusing to me that people don’t understand that vaccinations aren’t just a whim someone came up with, but are actually protections against diseases that are potentially lethal.

  15. Thank you! It doesn’t matter how many times a year we say this, people are SURE they got the “flu” from the vaccine. UGH!!!

  16. By their logic, I should never get another TDap shot because OH MY GOD THAT WAS THE WORST ARM PAIN IN MY LIFE AND IT WAS TOTALLY CAUSED BY THE SHOT!!!


    I think that vaccination is worth the pain. I’m not sold on ME NEEDING the flu shot because I’ve never had a truly debilitating flu (just really bad colds that may have been a mild flu), but I got the shot this year since I was at the doctor anyway. But if I was someone who gets sick easily, I wouldn’t hesitate to get the flu shot.

  17. My 19-month-old son got his flu vaccine yesterday. One annoyed “Mah!” and then he was waving bye-bye to the nurse, happy as a clam. Of course, today he got a cold, and my in-laws who are visiting were all “Oh, this is why I never used to get the flu vaccine, because I always get sick right after…” to which I just glare at them. We drew the line in the sand that they must be fully vaccinated (against pertussis, flu, etc.) in order to spend time with the grandbaby, and thankfully, grandbaby visitation rights are the ultimate trump card. Wish I could stop the comments, but whatever. It’s the actions that I care about!

  18. I just got my flu shot and a booster for the pneumonia….I haven’t skipped a flu shot since they started giving them….I also got the shingles shot…and am current on all my vaccines and shots…as are my daughters who are adults and my grandchildren….these shots help all of us….unless one is allergic to the ingredients, etc….I choose to be healthy…and do what I am able to prevent sickness to the best of my own ability. I do make sure I am healthy before getting these shots….and I hope others will also do all they are able to protect their own health and those around them…if you are sick..please don’t go to work…stay home and get better. thank you!

  19. I’ve been in the social media vaccine wars for a long time. The “vaccine causes the disease” meme is an old one, actually going back to Jenner and the first vaccine for smallpox. Since these folks are convinced vaccines cause disease and injury absolutely no amount of scientific data will convince most of them otherwise. It becomes part of their personal identity, a badge they wear. Interestingly, a large proportion of vaccine denialists believe vaccines are some sort of conspiracy, which is typically linked to the false conviction vaccines are immensely profitable. Moreover, many have other conspiracy beliefs. They believe the CDC is corrupt. What is often unclear is how they think such a vast conspiracy could be pulled off and why on earth anybody would do this. When you ask them that question you often get some truly wild-eyed responses.

  20. Always common sense advise. Though I will say, you need to be healthy when you’re getting this shot, I ended up in hospital with a pneumonia relapse several years ago after getting this. I don’t know if it was related, in my mind it was. But, yes I still get my annual flu shot.

  21. And a plug for expectant moms….they and their growing baby are more at risk for serious flu complications. “Pregnant women who get the flu are more likely than women who don’t get it to have problems, like preterm labor and premature birth.” (March of Dimes). So they should get the flu vaccine…in any trimester. (CDC) Family members too should be immunized to protect a new baby who can’t be immunized.

  22. 20 years ago I had my first flu vaccine.
    That season i also caught the worst flu I had ever had.
    I complained to my brother, who happens to be an Immunologist, that clearly the flu vaccine does not work.
    He laughed and said, well at least you didn’t get the flu strains you were vaccinated against.
    I’ve had 20 years of flu vaccine every year and nothing worse than a headcold during flu season until this Southern Hemisphere winter. Missed the appt for my shot. Ended up with a new worst flu I’ve ever experienced.

  23. i once got the flu (and a sinus infection and laryngitis concurrently) right after a flu shot but that was because i was coming off a chest infection when i got it, ultimately they/i should’ve waited til i wasn’t sick to give it. it was one of those things. but that experience didn’t make me suddenly think flu vaccines cause flu – because i’m not silly.

    also katie h is basically the trump of britain. vile woman.

    1. I work in a healthcare library in a London, UK hospital and one of my roles is to put together noticeboards on different health themes. I often use the ‘Behind the Headlines’ section on the NHS website which looks at newspaper reporting of health studies. The Daily Mail are repeat offenders when it comes to wilful misreporting of scientific work (the comments section on their website is a crime against humanity) and I saw a show in which the epidemiologist Dr. Ben Goldacre talked about this; in one part he presented a PowerPoint slide which listed in one column several different things that the Daily Mail had claimed caused cancer. In the next column, several of the things they claimed cured or prevented cancer. The majority of these items appeared in both columns. I know so many people who lap this shit up and I believe that science teaching in schools should include an element to introduce the critical appraisal of science research. How viable and how easy to introduce that would be, I don’t know because it depends very much on the background and experience of the teachers. As it happens, my next theme for the library noticeboard is ‘Evidence Based Champions’. I hope I can do it justice!

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