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Why you need the flu jab

September 12 2017

As it begins to turn colder, the sneezes, coughs and burning temperatures of the influenza virus are beginning to emerge; but there is a way to hold off the worst of it, with the flu jab!

Kate Carter, director of nursing and professions at Care UK, explains the ins and outs of why it’s important to vaccinate yourself against influenza.

A few flu facts for you

The seasonal flu vaccine offers the best available protection against influenza each year, and is an important infection prevention and control strategy in community and healthcare settings.

Did you know the strains of influenza virus change? This makes it important to have a flu jab every year to keep your protection up to date.

  • The flu jab is quick and simple.

  • It’s free on the NHS for anyone in an at risk group.

  • The flu jab doesn’t give you flu. Any side effects are usually mild and pass within a day or so.

  • It’s important to be vaccinated early each flu season, ideally before flu is actively circulating.

  • Influenza is an acute viral respiratory tract illness, caused by one of three influenza types (A, B and C) of which types A and B are most commonly associated with humans.

  • Flu is highly infectious and spreads rapidly. Transmission is via droplet spread, usually through coughing or sneezing. Catch it, bin it, kill it!

  • People with mild or no symptoms can still infect others and the usual incubation period is one to three days.

  • The flu jab reduces the risk of spreading the virus to those more vulnerable around you.

  • Health and social care workers should also be immunised as part of good infection and prevention control to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to patients and service users. It also reduces flu amongst colleagues and reduces staff absence through illness.

Influenza vaccine targets

Each year the Department of Health (DH) sets targets for vaccination uptake. For 2016/17 the target for healthcare workers was 75%, however, the uptake figures for healthcare workers in the last two years indicate a lower than expected coverage at 50-55%.

Further vaccine targets from the DH are:

  • Aged under 65 ‘at risk’ = 55%

  • Pregnant women = 55%

  • Eligible children aged two years to school year age three = 40-65%

  • Aged 65 years and over = 75%

However, it’s important to understand and address the barriers to those deciding not to have the seasonal vaccine each year. The most common reasons given for not having the flu vaccine are:

  • Concerns about the safety of the vaccine, and that vaccination may lead to influenza infection. The jab doesn’t give you flu but any side effects are usually mild and will pass within a day or two.

  • Concerns about the efficacy of the vaccine and that, even when vaccinated, individuals are not fully protected. No vaccine is 100% effective, however, people who have had the flu jab are less likely to get flu.

  • Studies have shown that many people often do not think of influenza as a serious disease, and they do not think they are at risk of infection themselves. In many cases people don’t recognise that they may be a possible source of transmission to their friends and family.

Should you get the jab?

Influenza viruses are prone to genetic change, which is why the vaccine needs an annual update. Each February, the World Health Organization assesses the strains circulating globally and identifies which strains should be added to the vaccine for the coming influenza season. Manufacturers then commence production of the appropriate vaccine and, following approval and licencing, they are available from late September.

Each year the Department of Health circulates a list of groups in whom the risk of serious illness from flu may cause complications due to underlying age, illness or other conditions. Babies under six months cannot receive the flu vaccine, so immunising women during pregnancy is the best way to protect both mum and baby.

Children (also known as ‘super spreaders’) are particularly effective at spreading flu germs. Since 2013, children have been immunised and this has had a positive impact on controlling and preventing onward transmission of the virus in the community.

It takes up to ten days for your body to produce antibodies from the flu jab, which means that during that time you will still be vulnerable to strains of influenza. The sooner you have the jab, the sooner you will help to protect yourself and those around you from a potentially harmful virus.