Can the Flu Shot Make You Sick? Why the Stick Can Make You Feel Ick

August 15, 2023

From 2010 to 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated there were 9.4 million to 41 million flu illnesses every year.  But there is an easy way to protect yourself — the flu shot.

Studies show that the severity of the flu is significantly less if you catch the flu but are vaccinated. The CDC says the flu vaccine reduces the risk of seeing a doctor for the flu by 40% to 60%. Additionally, a 2021 study found that adults vaccinated against the flu, but hospitalized for the virus, were 26% less likely to end up in the intensive care unit and had a 31% lower risk of death than unvaccinated individuals.

But many people worry about the myth that you can get sick from a flu shot. So, can the flu shot make you sick? While the flu vaccine itself won’t make you sick, you may have some reactions to the injection. Learn more about mitigating the symptoms.

Common Side Effects from the Flu Shot 

The flu vaccines given with a needle contain either inactivated flu viruses or a single protein from the virus, which means you can’t become sick from a flu shot. The nasal spray vaccine contains live viruses that are attenuated (weakened) so that they will not cause illness.Some people may experience mild side effects for one or two days after receiving the flu shot. You may experience soreness, redness, or swelling where you received the shot. Other side effects  include headache, low-grade fever, nausea, muscle aches, and fatigue. These symptoms are usually minor and short-lived and are nothing like having the actual flu.

Severe allergic reactions from flu shots are very rare. Signs that you might be having an allergic reaction include breathing problems, hoarseness or wheezing, paleness, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, or hives. The CDC says if you experience an allergic response, it typically happens within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. If you’re having an allergic reaction, contact a doctor right away.

Mitigating Side Effects

Some helpful tips to avoid any possible side effects from the flu shot include staying hydrated, taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, getting plenty of rest, and avoiding strenuous activities. If your arm is sore, apply a cold compress on the injection site to alleviate the symptoms. Simply wrap an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a thin cloth and gently place it on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

By staying hydrated, you are supporting your natural immune response and preventing dehydration.   OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help offer temporary relief if you’re experiencing any discomfort or muscle aches. Prioritize sleep and relaxation during the first 24 to 48 hours after vaccination. Doing so will not only help your body recover but also support your immune system in building protection against the flu. Lastly, while it’s important to maintain an active lifestyle, it’s advisable to avoid intense workouts or physically demanding activities immediately after receiving the flu shot. Give your body some time to adjust and recover.

Following these tips can help ensure a smoother experience and minimize any potential side effects.

If the question of can the flu shot make you sick is keeping you from protecting yourself, remember that most people who receive it experience little to no discomfort. Getting the flu could lead to much worse complications.

Where Can I Get the Flu Shot? 

Ready to protect yourself this flu season? Urgent cares, like American Family Care (AFC), are the perfect place to get the shot. No appointment is needed to receive a flu shot at your local AFC. Just walk in at a time that is convenient for you. Our clinics have extended hours on weekdays and are open on weekends. Find a location near you.




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