We all know vaccinations are one of the most important public health measures in preventing infectious diseases. And with winter upon us, flu shots are particularly common and accessible at healthcare facilities to help prevent the spread of influenza. But while many patients fear the after-effects of flu shots, the benefits far outweigh the (minimal) risks.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), they annually record 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness across the globe. Out of these cases, 290 000 to 650 000 patients die of respiratory conditions associated with influenza.

Influenza – or flu – is a seasonal viral infection that presents with fever, cough, headache, joint pain, sore throat and runny nose. The cough can last up to 2 weeks.

Most flu-sufferers recover from the virus without medical treatment. However, some patients are at risk of severe illness and even death. These high-risk patients include pregnant women, children under 59 months, the elderly and individuals with chronic medical conditions and/or compromised immune systems.

Vaccination is the best cure

While the influenza vaccine’s formulation does not provide protection against all forms of the flu, it’s important to note that it’s usually formulated to fight the most severe and dangerous strains.

The WHO recommends that all children from the age of 6 months should be vaccinated against the influenza virus.

The uptake of the flu vaccine is predominantly positive in developed areas. That said, people with allergies – particularly egg allergies – tend to be wary of getting vaccinated. One of the reasons for this is because the flu vaccine is grown on embryonated chicken egg and may contain egg, mostly Ovalbumin.

Allergies vs Side-effects

Many people also tend to confuse allergies with some of the common side-effects associated with flu shots. That’s why, when it comes to how your body might respond to a flu shot, it’s essential to draw a distinction.

One of the most dramatic side effects associated with flu shots includes fainting due to anxiety. Another side effect might be a local reaction, such as redness and swelling around the area you get injected. Your immune system might also respond to the bacteria and viruses in the vaccine, resulting in symptoms like mild body aches and -fever.

All of these side effects tend to blow over within days after getting immunised.

Your 0.00008% chance of getting an allergic reaction

Patients very seldom have allergic reactions to vaccines.

Real data about anaphylactic reactions to vaccines against different bacteria and viruses vary, but according to a 2016 study in the World Allergy Organization Journal, the rate is between 1 in 50 000 and 1 in 1 000 000 per dose of administered vaccine. A recent anaphylaxis rate for flu shots, specifically the H1N1 virus, came down to 0.8 reactions per million doses.

[Read more about anaphylaxis here]

The general consensus in the medical fraternity is that the risk of anaphylaxis following vaccinations is not higher in egg-allergic patients than the general population.

In fact, The American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention recently wrote that it’s not necessary to monitor patients with egg allergies for 30 minutes after their injections. This is because flu vaccines simply do not contain enough egg proteins to cause allergic reactions.

Why you need to get vaccinated

Vaccinations preserve life and avoid serious complications from infectious diseases. The benefits of vaccinations far outweigh the risks involved with them.

We must never lose sight of the fact that influenza is contagious. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, he, or she, disperses droplets containing viruses (infectious droplets) into the air. These droplets can spread up to one meter and infect persons nearby who breathe these droplets in.

By getting vaccinated, you will do yourself a big favour by becoming immune to a severe strain. And in doing so, you might prevent the spread of the virus to someone who might be much more susceptible, or vulnerable than yourself.

© 2019 | Dr Marinda McDonald | Practice number 0015393 | All rights reserved

  • If you still fear an allergic reaction following an immunisation, please contact your nearest medical doctor who will be happy to monitor you after administering the vaccine. 
  • The purpose of this article is to raise awareness of allergies and the treatment options that are available for it. This article should by no means be used, or viewed, as a primary source for medical advice. Please arrange for a personal consultation with your medical practitioner before taking any decisions that could affect the wellbeing of you or your loved ones. Read our medical disclaimer for more information.

Marinda McDonald

Dr Marinda McDonald has offered specialised treatments for allergies for most of her professional career. Read more about her on the home page of this website (allergydoc.co.za).