Influenza vaccination: the great debate

There is always a debate regarding whether you should receive a yearly influenza vaccine. Dr Theresa Coetzer and Monique Marais highlight the facts, myths and why it’s of benefit for people with diabetes.

The biggest myth

Most people have repeatedly heard some people say, “After receiving my influenza vaccination I became so ill; it took weeks to get over it. I’ll never be vaccinated again. It causes infection, it doesn’t prevent it!”

This is a myth, although it’s extremely difficult to convince those who firmly believe this myth. The fact is, the vaccine is made from dead virus material, and doesn’t have the ability to cause active influenza infection. There are other reasons people become ill after vaccination.

Why should you be vaccinated?

Everyone, especially people living with diabetes, can become extremely ill from influenza. Diabetes affects your immune system, as well as causes damage to organs like kidneys, heart, nervous system, etc. Due to this, the risk of severe complications accompanying influenzas are extremely high.

It’s always better to prevent disease than cure it. Complications, such as viral pneumonia, can lead to hospital, and most likely ICU admission.

Who should be vaccinated?

Everybody should be vaccinated yearly against influenza, but especially people with compromised immune systems, like those with diabetes.

Elderly people with comorbidities, such as cardiovascular or renal impairment, are even more at risk for serious complications accompanying influenza infections.

Another group we forget about is young children. Every mother knows that once your child starts nursery school, you’re constantly in your GP’s office with one upper respiratory tract infection after another.

The elderly, and the population with diabetes can easily contract influenza this way. Everybody in the family thus needs to be vaccinated to allow herd immunity to develop. Your family and your community will certainly reap the benefits of something as simple, as a yearly flu shot.

When should you get your shot?

It’s recommended that you get the newest flu vaccine yearly as soon as it becomes available; normally this is early autumn in South Africa.

Because viruses mutate, and new viruses constantly appear, the vaccine is adapted yearly to cover the three or four most virulent strains. This is the reason everyone needs a yearly vaccine, and not just a once-off.

The benefit of receiving it yearly, is that you maintain immunity to certain viruses that don’t form part of that year’s vaccine.

Advantages of vaccination

The vaccine doesn’t make you immune to influenza, you might still become infected, especially if it’s from a virus that doesn’t form part of that year’s vaccine, but by having some immunity, the severity of an influenza infection will be reduced, as well as possible complications like pneumonia.

You can’t always prevent contracting an infection, but with excellent control of diabetes, target organ damage can be prevented, and this leads to better immunity and other health benefits. Patients with diabetes need to be proactive in controlling their disease and complications that can accompany serious illness, like influenza.

Possible side effects

The vaccine will stimulate your immune system to form antibodies. It takes about two weeks, and during this time you can still be infected and become ill from influenza.

During the period of forming antibodies, you can have side effects. The most common side effects are tenderness around the injection site, and then symptoms like fever, headache, general body pains and nausea.

Allergic reactions are uncommon, but possible. If you’ve serious allergies, discuss them with your GP before receiving the vaccine.

Pregnant women can get vaccinated but discuss it with your gynaecologist to be certain. Antibodies can be transferred to the foetus, as well through breastfeeding, and this is a great benefit to your tiny bundle of joy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us all valuable lessons. Vaccines work; the amazing worldwide vaccination programme allowed us to return to our normal way of living.

One very crucial fact we can’t ever forget is: prevent getting affected. Vaccines are effective and is strongly advised but remember the wonderful habits we learned with COVID: sanitise your hands and wear a mask if you feel you need protection.

Knowledge is power. Make informed decisions, based on clinical and scientific information to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.


Monique Marais is a registered social worker at Care@Midstream sub-acute, specialising in physical rehabilitation for the past 11 years. She has a passion for the medical field and assisting people to understand and manage their diagnoses and the impact on their bio-psychosocial well-being.


Monique Marais is a registered social worker at Care@Midstream Sub Acute, specialising in physical rehabilitation for the past 11 years. She has a passion for the medical field and assisting people to understand and manage their diagnoses and the impact on their bio-psychosocial well-being.



Dr Theresa Coetzer is a general practitioner at the ClaytonCare Group, specialising in the treatment of medical complex patients in the physical rehabilitation field. She has a passion for people and ensuring the best possible medical outcome for her patients.

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Influenza vaccinations: the great debate