Get your flu jab
It’s time to help protect yourself with a flu jab. Dr George Kassianos, Immunisation Lead for the Royal College of General Practitioners and a GP in Berkshire, tells Sarah Brealey why the jab is so important.
Who should have a flu jab?
The over-65s, anyone with a long-term health condition (such as heart disease, respiratory disease, liver or kidney disease), pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, those living in long-stay residential homes and carers of elderly people. Children aged two, three and four are also now being offered the flu vaccine, using a nasal spray, as well as children in school years one and two (all primary school children in some areas).
Why is it important?
If these people catch flu they are more likely to get a bad case of flu or a serious complication such as a chest infection. The virus can weaken the respiratory system, which the heart relies on, so it’s vital that people with heart disease get the jab. The virus can also attack the heart muscle. If you have already had a heart attack, getting flu puts you at greater risk of having another heart attack. Flu can be mild or severe, and you just don’t know which type you will have. The best way of treating flu is to be vaccinated against it in the first place.
If I get the flu jab, does that mean I won’t get flu?
No vaccine is 100 per cent effective, but people who have had the flu jab are less likely to get flu. If you do get flu despite having the jab, it will probably be milder than if you haven’t been vaccinated. The vaccine doesn’t protect against other illnesses caused by other viruses, such as the common cold.
If you haven’t done so already, contact your GP surgery now
When’s the best time to get the flu jab?
It’s best to get vaccinated in November or earlier if you can, as flu usually becomes more common from December onwards. NHS flu vaccinations are available from community pharmacies as well as your GP.
How do I go about getting it?
Your surgery will be able to tell you. For example, at my surgery we have been running drop-in sessions on four Saturdays, while others will ask you to make an appointment. Don’t wait for your GP to contact you to arrange an appointment – there are so many people who need flu jabs, it’s best to be proactive.
I had the jab last year, do I need it again?
Yes, because the viruses that cause flu change every year. Each February, the World Health Organization recommends which viruses should be put in the vaccine and then the manufacturers start making it so that it’s ready for around September.
If there’s a nasal spray, can I have that instead?
At the moment, it is only licensed for those aged between two and 17. In the future, it is likely it will be licensed more widely.
Can I get flu from the flu jab?
No. There are no live viruses in the vaccine, so it can’t cause flu.
How much does it cost?
It’s free on the NHS to those who are eligible – we are very lucky. If you are not eligible, you can still pay to get it from your pharmacist - it costs £13.
Why is flu in the news?
Flu reportedly killed at least 85 people in the UK in winter 2017-18. The most common strain of the virus, H3N2, was nicknamed "Aussie flu". It contributed to a worse than usual winter death rate in Australia.
A letter in January 2018 from NHS England and the Royal College of GPs said: "Nationally there are still more than three million patients in target groups that could benefit from immunisation." So if you're eligible and haven't yet had your flu jab, make sure you get one.
A newer type of flu vaccine, called adjuvanted trivalent flu vaccine, which has been shown to be more effective in the over-75s, has now been licensed in the UK for the first time. It will be available from winter 2018-19. NHS England is encouraging GPs to use this vaccine in over-75s from winter 2018-19.