There has been a surge in demand for flu vaccinations this year as we get prepared for what seems to be a challenging winter ahead. Not only are we faced with the annual outbreak of flu and other common viruses, we now have COVID-19 to contend with.
It’s more important than ever to make sure we’re fit and well this winter and prevent becoming infected with different types of viruses. One way to do this is by having the annual flu jab.
Here we answer the most common questions asked about the flu vaccine.
What is the flu vaccine and how does it protect me?
The flu jab is a vaccine that protects against the influenza virus which can cause serious complications for those who are vulnerable. While most people can recover quite quickly, those who have serious health conditions or are elderly can become seriously ill. Vaccination can reduce flu infections, hospitalisations, and death caused by flu.
The flu vaccine works by causing antibodies to develop in your body which protects you from the virus and gives you a strong immune response against this particular virus.
Contrary to popular belief, the flu vaccine does not contain live viruses and therefore it cannot cause you to become ill with the flu. However, because the antibodies don’t develop until two weeks after vaccination, it’s possible that you may have been infected during this time or just before you got vaccinated.
There are different types of the flu vaccine, and the one that you have depends on your age and whether you have any allergies, particularly to eggs or egg products as some vaccines are manufactured using eggs. The quadrivalent vaccine is the standard vaccine given to most people, it protects against four strains of the virus. Those who are over the age of 65 will be given the trivalent vaccine, this is an immune-boosting vaccine needed for people in this age group as their immune systems are much weaker. The 2020/21 flu jab also protects against the H1N1 virus which you may know as swine flu. This is a type A influenza virus which are considered to be more severe than the type B flu viruses that are also included in the vaccine.
Does the 2020/21 flu vaccine protect against coronavirus?
No, there is not yet a vaccine developed for COVID-19 and the current flu vaccine will not protect you from this coronavirus. However, getting the flu vaccine could potentially save you from becoming seriously ill if you happen to be exposed to both of these viruses at the same time. Research has shown that if you get COVID-19 and flu at the same time your risk of becoming seriously ill and potentially dying is increased significantly.
Some flu seasons are worse than others, so it’s important that we’re prepared this year as we also face the COVID-19 pandemic.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
This year, everyone is advised to get the flu jab due to the COVID-19 pandemic as not only does it protect yourself, it also helps reduce the spread of flu to those who are most vulnerable.
There are certain groups of people who need to be vaccinated against flu more than others, and if you are in any of the vulnerable groups you may be entitled to a free NHS flu jab. You should get the flu jab if you are:
- 65 and over
- Have certain health conditions, particularly long term health conditions such as diabetes, heart conditions, respiratory conditions such as asthma, and conditions that cause a weakened immune system such as HIV and AIDs, or if you’re going through chemotherapy (check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if you’re eligible for a free flu vaccination, the NHS website also has more information about specific health conditions which qualify for a free vaccination)
- In long-stay residential care
- A carer of someone who is at risk of becoming seriously ill if they were to catch flu
- Living with someone who is shielding from coronavirus
- Front line health and social care workers
Although you may not be in these vulnerable groups, you may still be at a higher risk of developing serious complications from flu, such as if you’re between the ages of 50 and 64, in which case you’ll be strongly advised to get vaccinated this flu season.
Who should not get the flu jab?
You can speak to your healthcare provider about whether you’re suitable to be vaccinated, but generally, if you’ve had a serious reaction to this vaccine in the past you should avoid it. If you have an allergy to eggs you’re unsuitable for the standard flu vaccine which is manufactured using eggs, fortunately, there is an egg-free flu vaccine that you can request from your healthcare provider before your appointment.
I’m pregnant, is it safe for me to have the flu vaccine?
Absolutely, in fact, it’s highly recommended that you get the vaccine during any stage of pregnancy as the flu can cause serious illness for you and cause serious complications for your unborn baby. The vaccine won’t harm your baby but will protect them from the virus and its complications.
Is there a flu vaccine for children?
As we all know injections aren’t a pleasant experience, especially for children and babies. The nasal spray vaccine can be given to children aged from 2 to 17, however, your child may be given the flu vaccine as an injection if they are in the high-risk groups.
How will I feel after my vaccination?
The flu vaccine is not likely to cause major side effects, your healthcare provider will advise that you wait around 10 minutes before leaving so that in the very rare case that you have a serious allergic reaction, your healthcare provider is well equipped and trained to treat your reaction. Of course, severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccine is very rare, and if you’ve had the vaccine before it’s very unlikely that you’ll react this time.
You may have a sore arm where the vaccine is administered, mild muscle aches, and a slightly raised temperature after, but these should only last for a couple of days. Bear in mind that the flu vaccine shouldn’t cause a fever, so if your temperature is above 38C you may have some sort of viral infection or other illness, and given the current coronavirus situation, it’s best to self isolate and request a coronavirus test.
How much does the flu jab cost?
For those who are eligible, the flu vaccine is free on the NHS. For everyone else, you can get vaccinated at your local pharmacy or supermarket pharmacy and it usually costs around £10. Be sure to check with your pharmacist whether you’re entitled to a free vaccination.
How else can I protect myself from flu and other viruses such as COVID-19?
The flu vaccine is very effective and this combined with social distancing and hygiene measures should ward off the virus and protect you this winter. Follow all of the measures in place regarding coronavirus to protect yourself and others since we don’t have a vaccine developed yet. This means wearing a mask, adhering to social distancing, and handwashing!
We cannot stress enough the importance of hand hygiene when it comes to stopping the spread of viruses. Your hands transmit viruses from contaminated surfaces to your body via your eyes, mouth, and nose when you touch your face, but soap can kill any viruses that are on your hands. Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, and keep hand sanitiser with you in case you can’t make it to a washbasin.
Doctor 4 U has all of the supplies you need to adhere to government regulations and protect yourself and others from viruses that are circulating.
Do antiviral drugs prevent or cure the flu and other viruses?
Antiviral medicines such as Tamiflu stop the virus from multiplying in the body, and by doing so the severity of symptoms is reduced and the duration of your illness is shortened. By taking antiviral medication such as Tamiflu as soon as you notice flu symptoms, you may not feel as ill and your bout of flu will be over sooner.
If you’ve been exposed to the flu virus but you don’t have symptoms yet, this is a good time to take Tamiflu to prevent becoming ill.
Although antiviral medicines may not cure the infection, they can help you to fight it quicker and reduce the severity of your symptoms.