• Health

Misleading article claiming “flu shots spread the flu” treats opinion as fact

Posted on:  2019-03-05

Key takeaway

The flu vaccine does come with some side effects, but spreading the flu is not one of them. Flu vaccines are made from inactivated virus particles which are no longer infectious and therefore cannot cause the flu.

Reviewed content


Flu shots spread the flu

Source: Natural News, Vicki Batts, 2019-02-13

Verdict detail

Conflates facts and opinions: The article claims that the flu vaccine is harmful based on the results of a national survey on parents. While the survey certainly shows that many people think the flu vaccine causes the flu, the article provides no scientific evidence to support this opinion.
Misleading: The article cites data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) as conclusive evidence of vaccine harm, failing to mention that reports can be made without proof that vaccination did cause the injury .

Full Claim

Flu shots spread the flu


This article by Natural News reports the results of a national survey conducted by Orlando Health, showing that more than half the parents surveyed believed the flu shot can give children the flu. Based on this popular opinion, the article’s headline claims that “30% of parents realize flu shots spread the flu”, implying this opinion is actually correct.

The idea that the flu vaccine causes the flu is actually a common misconception, as explained in a Q&A by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, flu vaccines are made using inactivated viral particles which are no longer infectious.

The article also claims that the flu shot causes other forms of harm, citing data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) as evidence. This is not a correct use of the data, as VAERS’ guide explains:

“When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.”

Scientists’ Feedback

Parker A Small member picture

Parker A Small

Professor Emeritus, Emerging Pathogens Institute, University of Florida

Flu shots do not cause the flu! The flu virus in the vaccine is not just killed – it is also disassembled. Even more compelling is the fact that one cannot give the flu to animals or people by injecting the live virus! The flu virus that infects people only grows in the cells lining the respiratory tract, therefore it can only be spread through the air.

Simon Drysdale member picture

Simon Drysdale

Consultant and Senior Lecturer (Paediatric Infectious Diseases), St George's, University of London

This article mainly highlights that lots of the public are sceptical about vaccines. That doesn’t mean their scepticism is correct, but it does mean healthcare professionals/authorities need to be better at communicating with the public about vaccines. There are potential side effects of the flu vaccines but serious adverse events are extremely rare. The article doesn’t, of course, comment on the huge reduction in influenza morbidity and mortality associated with vaccination[1,2].

The misconception behind this false claim may stem from the fact that side effects of the flu vaccine, such as headache, slight fever and muscle aches, are similar to flu symptoms. However, it should be noted that the vaccine’s side effects are shorter-lived and milder compared to the actual flu symptoms.

Some people may find themselves getting a flu-like illness after the vaccination, but this is also not due to the vaccine itself. There are several explanations for this observation. Firstly, the flu vaccine is far from perfect and does not prevent 100% of all flu infections. Its effectiveness depends on the strains used in the vaccine, which may not be the same ones encountered by the individual.

Secondly, it takes time for the flu vaccine to build up a person’s immunity against the flu virus. It is possible to be infected without showing symptoms for up to 4 days post-infection. In addition, flu vaccine-mediated immunity takes about 2 weeks to develop, according to the CDC and the Mayo Clinic. Therefore, a person who has been infected before or shortly after receiving the flu vaccine is not going to be protected from developing the flu.

Thirdly, the flu shot does not protect against other viruses which also cause respiratory tract infections and produce symptoms similar to the flu, such as the respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus. (Health Feedback has published a review on an article covering this issue.) Distinguishing these infections from the flu is only possible through laboratory tests, which most people do not undergo. Therefore, such infections are easily mistaken to be flu infections.


Science Feedback is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to science education. Our reviews are crowdsourced directly from a community of scientists with relevant expertise. We strive to explain whether and why information is or is not consistent with the science and to help readers know which news to trust.
Please get in touch if you have any comment or think there is an important claim or article that would need to be reviewed.

Published on:


Related Articles