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Are there any flu shot or nasal spray vaccine side effects in adults or in children?

Although annual influenza (injectable) vaccination has long been recommended for people in the high-risk groups, many still do not receive the vaccine, often because of their concern about side effects. They mistakenly perceive influenza as merely a nuisance and believe that the vaccine causes unpleasant side effects or that it may even cause the flu. The truth is that influenza vaccine causes no side effects in most people. The most serious side effect that can occur after influenza vaccination is an allergic reaction in people who have a severe allergy to eggs, since the viruses used in the vaccine are grown in hens' eggs. However, a newer form of the vaccine is available that is not grown in chicken eggs. For this reason, people who have an allergy to eggs should not receive the conventional influenza vaccine, but the newer forms may be appropriate for them. Also, the vaccine is not recommended while individuals have active infections or active diseases of the nervous system. Less than one-third of those who receive the vaccine have some soreness at the vaccination site, and about 5%-10% experience mild side effects, such as headache, low-grade fever, or muscle cramps, for about a day after vaccination; some may develop swollen lymph nodes. These side effects are most likely to occur in children who have not been exposed to the influenza virus in the past. The intradermal shots reportedly have similar side effects as the IM shot but are less intense and may not last as long as the IM shot.

Nevertheless, some older people remember earlier influenza vaccines that did, in fact, produce more unpleasant side effects. Vaccines produced from the 1940s to the mid-1960s were not as highly purified as modern influenza vaccines, and it was these impurities that caused most of the side effects. Since the side effects associated with these early vaccines, such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and/or fatigue and malaise, were similar to some of the symptoms of influenza, people believed that the vaccine had caused them to get the flu. However, injectable influenza vaccine produced in the United States has never been capable of causing influenza because it consists of killed virus.

Another type of influenza vaccine (nasal spray) is made with live attenuated (altered) influenza viruses (LAIV). This vaccine is made with live viruses that can stimulate the immune response enough to confer immunity but do not cause classic influenza symptoms (in most instances). The nasal spray vaccine (FluMist) was only approved for healthy individuals ages 2-49 years of age and was recommended preferentially for healthy children aged 2 through 8 who do not have contraindications to receiving the vaccine, if it is readily available. This nasal spray vaccine contains live attenuated virus (less able to cause flu symptoms due to a designed inability to replicate at normal body temperatures). This live vaccine could possibly cause the disease in infants and immunocompromised people and does not produce a strong immune response in many older people. Side effects of the nasal spray vaccine include nasal congestion, sore throat, and fever. Headaches, muscle aches, irritability, and malaise have also been noted. In most instances, if side effects occur, they only last a day or two. This nasal spray has been produced for conventional flu viruses and should not be given to pregnant women or anyone who has a medical condition that may compromise the immune system because in some instances the flu may be a side effect. Please note that the CDC recommended that the nasal spray (LAIV) vaccine should not be used during the 2016-2017 flu season because of relatively lower effectiveness seen from 2013-2016 (see the entire recommendation at http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/s0622-laiv-flu.html).

Some people do not receive influenza vaccine because they believe it is not very effective. There are several different reasons for this belief. People who have received influenza vaccine may subsequently have an illness that is mistaken for influenza, and they believe that the vaccine failed to protect them. In other cases, people who have received the vaccine may indeed have an influenza infection. Overall vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year, depending upon the degree of similarity between the influenza virus strains included in the vaccine and the strain or strains that circulate during the influenza season. Because the vaccine strains must be chosen nine to 10 months before the influenza season, and because influenza viruses mutate over time, sometimes mutations occur in the circulating virus strains between the time the vaccine strains are chosen and the next influenza season ends. These mutations sometimes reduce the ability of the vaccine-induced antibody to inhibit the newly mutated virus, thereby reducing vaccine effectiveness. This commonly occurs with the conventional flu vaccines as the specific virus types chosen for vaccine inclusion are based on reasoned projections for the upcoming flu season. Occasionally, the vaccine does not match the actual predominating virus strain and is not very effective in generating a specific immune response to the predominant infecting flu strain.

Return to Flu (Influenza)

See what others are saying

Comment from: Cari, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: October 04

Day of flu shot and entire day after, I felt extremely tired and had bouts of nausea. It only lasted one day.

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Comment from: James, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: May 24

I had the barium swallow with a small intestine follow through, I think at least 16 oz of the drink. I was fine for first and second day but on the third day I awoke with stomach cramps relieved with defecation but which returned when sitting. I have a mild form of diverticulitis. While my stools are returning to color the second day, I'm wondering if some of that chalk is trapped in my diverticula and will harden. I'm forcing plenty of water. I think this is why barium enemas have been replaced by colonoscopies.

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Comment from: Sas, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: December 07

A couple of days after taking the flu shot my right eye started to be sore and aching. It feels like sand in my eye and itchy. I went to my eye doctor who said everything looked ok but it could be caused from flu shot. I went to my medical doctor and she said it was an eye infection and has given me antibiotics. The worst is the bone on the outside of my eye hurts badly when I touch it. My eye is slightly swollen and also there is swelling under my eye on the top of my cheek. After 4 days of antibiotics I can't see a big change at all. I will go back to my eye doctor on Monday. I wonder if it is just a coincidence. My vision seems ok except when I move my eyeball to the right it doubles a bit, and also hurts when I look to the right; feels like there is something under the bone causing soreness.

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