The Importance of getting your Flu Vaccinations

Rebecca Tilby, Registered Manager at Katherine Harriet Ltd looks at Flu Vaccinations and the importance of receiving this.

Why is it especially important to get the flu vaccine this year?

Measures that help protect us against COVID-19 such as distancing, wearing face coverings, and washing hands often may also help the spread of flu. Yet it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused shortages of hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators even outside of flu season. During flu season, when both the flu and COVID-19 will be circulating, hospitals may again face shortages, limiting their ability to care for people who are seriously ill with the flu, COVID-19, or both.

People can get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. A recent study showed people who had COVID-19 and influenza B were sicker than those who had COVID-19 alone.

Also, COVID-19 and flu have similar symptoms like fever, chills, fatigue, body aches, and coughs. So people who get the flu may need to be tested for COVID-19, and then quarantine until they get the test result. This could mean more days out of work. It could also lead to testing shortages.

What is flu? Isn’t it just a heavy cold?

Flu occurs every year, usually in the winter, which is why it’s sometimes called seasonal flu. It’s a highly infectious disease with symptoms that come on very quickly. Colds are much less serious and usually start gradually with a stuffy or runny nose and a sore throat. A bad bout of flu can be much worse than a heavy cold.

The most common symptoms of flu are fever, chills, headache, aches and pains in the joints and muscles, and extreme tiredness. Healthy individuals usually recover within two to seven days, but for some the disease can lead to hospitalisation, permanent disability or even death.

What causes flu?

Flu is caused by influenza viruses that infect the windpipe and lungs. And because it’s caused by viruses and not bacteria, antibiotics won’t treat it. However, if there are complications from getting flu, antibiotics may be needed.

How do you catch flu?

When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they spread the flu virus in tiny droplets of saliva over a wide area. These droplets can then be breathed in by other people or they can be picked up by touching surfaces where the droplets have landed. You can prevent the spread of the virus by covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and you can wash your hands frequently or use hand gels to reduce the risk of picking up the virus.

But the best way to avoid catching and spreading flu is by having the vaccination before the flu season starts.

How effective is the flu vaccine?

Although the vaccine is not perfect, it is 40% to 60% effective in most years. And if you do get the flu it is likely to be milder, because vaccination reduces the risk of severe illness or death.

Who is at increased risk from the effects of flu?

Flu can affect anyone but if you have a long-term health condition the effects of flu can make it worse even if the condition is well managed and you normally feel well. You should have the free flu vaccine if you have a long term condition such as:

  • heart problem
  • chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including bronchitis, emphysema or severe asthma
  • kidney disease
  • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment (such as steroid medication or cancer treatment)
  • liver disease
  • had a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
  • diabetes
  • neurological condition, e.g. multiple sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy
  • learning disability
  • problem with your spleen, e.g. sickle cell disease, or you have had your spleen removed
  • are seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above)

This list of conditions isn’t definitive. It’s always an issue of clinical judgement. Your GP can assess you to take into account the risk of flu making any underlying illness you may have worse, as well as your risk of serious illness from flu itself.

Flu Myth Busters 

The flu vaccination gives you the flu

As a general belief, it is thought that the flu vaccine contains a small amount of the flu strain in order for your body to kill it off and therefore prepare it for battle in the coming months. On the one hand this is true but not in the way that you might think,

For most flu vaccines, the strains of the viruses are grown in hens’ eggs. The viruses are then killed (or deactivated) and purified before being made into the vaccine.

So your vaccine is essentially the virus that has been killed outside your body and rather than being given the live flu so your body can fight and kill it off, you’re given something that prepares your body for the effects of what’s to come so it can learn without giving you something that could hurt you. 

I’ve had it before…so I don’t need it again

Just like the belief that we’re being injected with the flu, this is a belief that’s understandable. From our birth, when we’re given vaccines to help prevent all manner of things, we’re usually given them once and that’s it, we’re covered for life.

The difference with the flu is that it evolves just like we do. Every year the strain makes itself slightly different in order for it to have its evil way with you, which is what makes the flu quite as nasty as it is, it tries to take over your body, eventually fails but it will be back. 

So every year a new vaccine is prepared. In fact, pharmaceutical companies spend almost the entire year developing their own flu vaccines in the hope that theirs will be the one that foils the flu.

So it’s vital that every year you get a fresh flu jab in order to keep this year’s strain away. 

I’m fit and healthy so I don’t need it

Whether you’re a gym goer, you just like to look after yourself or you have a great immune system, you might believe you will beat the flu.

But the fact is around a third of those who die from the flu are completely fit and healthy people

Plus there’s the bigger things in life to consider here; you’re risking giving the flu to your, family, friends, colleagues and gym buddies. 

04.10.2021 / Rebecca Tilby – Registered Manager