Flu shots 101: How they work, potential side effects and more

Woman showing off her vaccination bandage

Flu season is around the corner. The best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick is by getting your annual flu vaccine, which is now available at the University Health Center.

We know many have questions about the flu vaccine and wonder if it’s right for them. Before you get vaccinated, take a moment to expand your knowledge of common flu symptoms, possible side effects, vaccine recommendations and more.

Most common flu symptoms

When we talk about the flu (and the vaccine), we refer to the illness caused by the influenza virus. Influenza is a respiratory virus not to be confused with gastrointestinal bugs often called the “stomach flu.” The most common flu symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Upper respiratory symptoms that may include a cough, congestion or sore throat

A person is considered contagious when symptoms are present. Still, they can potentially spread the flu even before they notice symptoms.

Why vaccination is critical in 2022

As the COVID-19 pandemic transitions – especially as wearing masks and practicing social distancing are less utilized – there is a concern that the flu season will be more significant this year. Therefore, the University Health Center recommends getting vaccinated to protect yourself and our Husker community.

Each year, flu vaccines are created based on predictions of what flu strains may be present in the coming flu season. Like most vaccines, the flu shot does not provide 100% protection, but it is still very effective. Receiving the vaccine reduces your chance of getting the flu, the severity of symptoms, and the risk of spreading the virus to others.

Once you are vaccinated, you gain the total amount of protection after two weeks. Our recommendation is to get it sooner than later.

What if I’m allergic to eggs?

There is an egg-free vaccine available for those with an egg allergy, but it is not offered at the University Health Center. If your allergy is mild, you can safely receive the regular vaccine. If you have a severe allergy, talk to your doctor about receiving the egg-free version at an off-campus location. 

How does the flu vaccine work?

The vaccine contains elements of the dead influenza virus so the immune system can respond to those specific proteins to make antibodies. When the immune system sees the virus in the future, it ramps up the antibody response to kill it quicker.

What if I always seem to get sick after getting the flu shot?

You cannot get the flu from the flu shot, but you may experience mild side effects. It’s common to feel tenderness at the injection site or mild symptoms for a day or two afterward.

When you experience mild symptoms, remember that your immune system is doing what it is designed to do: reacting to a foreign antigen and triggering the production of antibodies that will fight the flu in the future.

Common side effects include:

  • General fatigue
  • Injection site pain
  • Occasionally, a low-grade fever

Doctor’s advice? Think about the timing of your flu shot. Plan it around your life events just in case you feel a few side effects afterward.

Who shouldn’t get the flu shot?

Patients with a suppressed immune system should consult their doctor to discuss their best options. Those with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome, certain autoimmune disorders and those who are sick should avoid getting the flu vaccine.

How can I get my flu shot on campus?

Flu shots are now available at the University Health Center. They are free for currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate UNL students. Students 18 and older may attend an upcoming drop-in flu vaccination clinic, and students of all ages can get vaccinated by appointment at the medical clinic by calling 402.472.5000. Learn more about drop-in vaccine clinics and other flu shot information.

How do I know if I have influenza or COVID-19?

The symptoms can be challenging to tell apart. If your symptoms last more than a day or two, perform an at-home COVID-19 test or call 402.472.5000 to get tested at the health center. If your symptoms include a fever and body aches, always reach out to a doctor.

If you get sick with the flu (even if you’ve been vaccinated), call your doctor within 24 to 48 hours. Tamiflu is still available as a treatment option and must start within the first few days of symptoms. Wait 24 hours after you are fever free before returning to school or work. Keep yourself and others healthy by practicing healthy habits to prevent flu and colds all season.