Skip to content
Flu in South Carolina

Facts about Flu and Flu Vaccine Safety

image of nurse

The H1N1 Virus

The World Health Organization declared the H1N1 Influenza Pandemic over in August 2010, but the H1N1 virus is still affecting people throughout the world and here in South Carolina.

Epidemiologists at DHEC, assisted by our state's medical professionals and hospitals, track the spread of flu viruses throughout South Carolina. We watch for trends in hospitalizations and deaths, and reports of unusual clusters of particular viruses. You can see our findings and monitor the progress of influenza viruses at DHEC's FluWatch.

The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus will continue to circulate for years to come, but this year's seasonal flu vaccine will protect you from it. The current seasonal flu vaccine will also protect you from the H3N2 virus and an influenza B virus.

To reduce your chances of getting sick from the flu or passing the flu to others:

  • Get your seasonal flu vaccination every year.
  • Wash your hands frequently, cover your cough, and stay home from work when you're sick.
  • If you become sick with the flu, use antiviral drugs correctly (if your doctor recommends them).

Remember, influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Anyone can get sick from the flu.

Are Flu Vaccines Safe?


You may have heard that vaccines that contain thimerosal are unsafe for children and pregnant women or that vaccines can cause autism. However, this is not true.

It is safe for children and pregnant women to receive a flu vaccine that contains thimerosal.

Here's what the CDC says:

Since 2001, no new vaccine licensed by the FDA for use in children has contained thimerosal as a preservative, and all vaccines routinely recommended by CDC for children under 6 years of age have been thimerosal-free, or contain only trace amounts, except for multi-dose formulations of influenza vaccine.

This was done as a precautionary step and not because there was evidence confirming that thimerosal-containing vaccines were causing health problems. The most recent and rigorous scientific research does not support the hypothesis that thimerosal-containing vaccines are harmful.

Thimerosal is an important preservative that protects vaccines against potential microbial contamination, which may occur in opened multi-dose vials of vaccine. Such contamination could cause serious illness or death. Since seasonal influenza vaccine is produced in large quantities for annual immunization campaigns, some of the vaccine is produced in multi-dose vials, and contains thimerosal to safeguard against possible contamination of the vial once it is opened.

Three leading federal agencies (CDC, FDA, and NIH) have reviewed the published research on thimerosal and found it to be a safe product to use in vaccines. Three independent organizations — The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) – reviewed the published research and also found thimerosal to be a safe product to use in vaccines. The scientific community supports the use of thimerosal in influenza vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) places a high priority on vaccine safety, surveillance, and research. CDC is aware that the presence of the preservative thimerosal in vaccines and suggestions of a relationship to autism has raised concerns. These concerns make the decisions surrounding vaccinations confusing and difficult for some people, especially parents.

Numerous studies have found no association between thimerosal exposure and autism. Since 2001, no new vaccine licensed by FDA for use in children has contained thimerosal as a preservative and all vaccines routinely recommended by CDC for children under six years of age have been thimerosal-free, or contain only trace amounts, except for some formulations of influenza vaccine. Unfortunately, we have not seen reductions in the numbers of children identified with autism which indicates that the cause of autism is not related to a single exposure such as thimerosal.

The federal government is committed to assuring the safety of vaccines. This is achieved by FDA oversight of rigorous pre-licensure trials and post-licensure monitoring by CDC and FDA. This commitment not only stems from our scientific and medical dedication, it is also personal – for most of us who work at HHS, CDC, and FDA are also parents and grandparents. We too, place tremendous value on the health and safety of children.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome

You may have heard that the influenza vaccine will cause Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is a rare disease in which the body damages its own nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. It is not fully understood why some people develop GBS, but it is believed that stimulation of the body's immune system may play a role in its development. Infection with the bacterium Campylobacter jejuni, which can cause diarrhea, is one of the most common risk factors for GBS. People can also develop GBS after having the flu or other infections (such as cytomegalovirus and Epstein Barr virus). On very rare occasions, they may develop GBS in the days or weeks following receiving a vaccination.

In 1976, there was a small risk of GBS following influenza (swine flu) vaccination (approximately 1 additional case per 100,000 people who received the swine flu vaccine). That number of GBS cases was slightly higher than what is normally seen in the population, whether or not people were vaccinated. Since then, numerous studies have been done to evaluate if other flu vaccines were associated with GBS. In most studies, no association was found, but two studies suggested that approximately 1 additional person out of 1 million vaccinated people may be at risk for GBS associated with the seasonal influenza vaccine. FDA and CDC will be closely monitoring reports of serious problems following the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccines, including GBS.

Adjuvants (Including Squalene)

You may have heard that the flu vaccine includes adjuvants, such as squalene.

None of the H1N1 vaccines currently distributed by the U.S. government contain adjuvants.

All H1N1 vaccines used in the United States are licensed by the FDA and are made in the same way as seasonal influenza vaccines are made. Currently, seasonal flu vaccines in the United States are also made without adjuvants.

If needed, an adjuvant is a component that can be incorporated into a vaccine to help to generate a stronger immune response to the vaccine and help prevent disease. Squalene is a compound found in many natural sources, such as olive oil, that can act as an adjuvant and is used as an adjuvant in vaccines in many countries.

The evaluation of any vaccine by the FDA considers the safety, effectiveness, and the immune response and includes consideration of all components of the vaccine.

H1N1 in the Seasonal Flu Vaccine

You may have heard that the current influenza vaccine is not safe because it includes the 2009 H1N1 vaccine .

This is false. The latest seasonal flu vaccine has been and is being produced with all appropriate production safety precautions and is both safe and effective. The FDA has licensed it. It is produced exactly the same way the seasonal flu vaccine is produced every year.

Seasonal flu vaccines have a very good safety track record. Over the years, hundreds of millions of Americans have received seasonal flu vaccines. The safety of all vaccines licensed in the United States is monitored through a system (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS) that collects and analyzes information from adverse events that occur after vaccination. Healthcare providers, vaccine manufacturers, and the general public can submit information to the system via mail, fax, or dedicated Web site, in English or Spanish.

Preliminary safety data from VAERS indicate that the safety profile of the 2009 H1N1 vaccines is similar to the profile for seasonal influenza vaccines. The most common adverse events noted were local reactions – redness and mild discomfort at the injection site for the injectible vaccine and mild runny nose and congestion for the live, intranasal vaccine.

Will the Flu Vaccine Make Me Sick?

[ Video script ]

You may have heard that the flu vaccine will give you the flu. That is false. The flu vaccine does not cause the flu. The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Sometimes persons may experience some minor side effects to the vaccine, but these are generally mild and last only a day or two after the vaccine.

Some minor side effects that could occur are:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever (low grade)
  • Aches

If these problems occur, they begin soon after the shot, are usually mild, and usually last 1 to 2 days. Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it. However, on rare occasions, flu vaccination can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.

It's very rare for people to have allergic reactions to vaccines. But it does happen. Influenza vaccines are made using eggs, so people with allergies to eggs should talk with their health care provider before receiving the vaccine. Symptoms of an allergic reaction usually appear a few minutes to a few hours after a person gets the vaccination.

If you have any of these allergic reaction warning signs, call a doctor immediately:

  • High fever
  • Behavior changes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hoarseness or wheezing
  • Hives
  • Paleness
  • Weakness
  • A fast heart beat
  • Dizziness

Hate Needles? Flu Mist Nasal Spray Vaccine Available

[ Video script ]

If you hate needles, you can get protection from the flu by taking the Flu-Mist (LAIV) nasal spray vaccine.

You may be worried that the FluMist (LAIV) will give you the flu or make you contagious. But the viruses in the nasal-spray vaccine are weakened, so they do not cause severe symptoms often associated with influenza illness. (In clinical studies, transmission of vaccine viruses to close contacts has occurred only rarely.)

The 2010 nasal spray vaccine does not contain thimerosal or other preservatives. It is licensed for people 2 to 49 years of age.

However, the nasal-spray vaccine is not appropriate for everyone. You should not get it if you have a severe (life-threatening) allergy to eggs, or to any other substance in the vaccine.

You should not receive this type of vaccine if you are pregnant, or under 2 years of age or have certain medical conditions. (More information is available on the CDC's Vaccine Information Statement (pdf).

Occasionally, there are mild side effects from the nasal-spray vaccine.

In children, side effects can include:

  • runny nose
  • wheezing
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • muscle aches
  • fever

In adults, side effects can include

  • runny nose
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • cough

Is the Flu-Mist nasal-spray vaccine as effective as the flu shot? According to, in one large study among children aged 15-85 months, the seasonal nasal-spray flu vaccine reduced the chance of influenza illness by 92% compared with placebo.

In a study among adults, the participants were not specifically tested for influenza. However, the study found 19% fewer severe febrile respiratory tract illnesses, 24% fewer respiratory tract illnesses with fever, 23-27% fewer days of illness, 13-28% fewer lost work days, 15-41% fewer health care provider visits, and 43-47% less use of antibiotics compared with placebo.

Does DHEC think getting the flu vaccine is a good thing to do?

[ Video script ]

Absolutely, as it will help to prevent and slow the spread of seasonal flu which kills tens of thousands of Americans every year.

When should we I get a vaccine and where can I go to get it?

Use our online flu vaccine finder tools.






If, after reading the information available on our website, you have questions about the vaccine,
please call 1-800-27SHOTS (1-800-277-4687).