The flu vaccine

Last week the news was released that a child in Florida had died from the flu, a highly infectious respiratory disease.  The flu “season” typically starts around October time, picking up more steam over the winter months before petering off again in the spring. Over the 2017-18 season, the UK saw a significant increase in the number of patients being seen with the Flu and over 120 people dying (Campbell, Duncan and Walker, 2018).

Who’s most at risk

The elderly, frail, pregnant women, people with long-term health conditions, immunocompromised individuals, children.

Why does everyone need the vaccine?

During my short stint working the healthcare sector, I have yet to meet an individual who doesn’t at least know someone else who is vulnerable to the flu. Ensuring as many people as possible get the vaccine allows the population to gain ‘herd immunity’, vastly decreasing the spread of the virus and the effects it will have on those who cannot have the vaccine.

Of course, there are a small number of people who cannot have the vaccine for a variety of reasons, and these are the people that we want to cover with the herd immunity. Always speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.

Can the vaccine give me the flu?

No. This is biologically impossible.
The current flu vaccines (I’ll link the ones currently used in the references) are all inactivated, meaning they contain a ‘dead’ version of the virus, so cannot give you the flu. The way this works is by tricking your immune system into thinking it has been infection with the virus, allowing it to produce the relevant antibodies without having the flu itself. Unfortunately, this can produce flu like symptoms as your immune system gets to work on its fake infection. The nasal spray contains a slightly different vaccine formulation, but this also cannot give you the flu.

Why should healthcare professionals get the vaccine?

Now this isn’t rocket science. If you work in healthcare, even in a non-clinical role, you are potentially exposed to a large number of sick individuals who would like nothing more than to not get the flu on top of whatever is already wrong with them. Healthcare professionals are key spreaders of all sorts of infections, from norovirus to the flu, and anything you can do to stop the infection cycle will make a difference.

Where can you get your vaccine?

Vaccines are available from your GP or local pharmacy and depending on your age and circumstances may come with a small cost.

Student nurses: a bit more of a sticky situation. You’re professionally obliged to get the vaccine but don’t count as a ‘carer’. Some GP’s will offer it for free, but you’ll have to pay at pharmacies. I got mine through my placement and most hospitals are currently offering flu vaccine sessions at the moment that staff and students are free to attend.

 

References

Campbell, D., Duncan, P. and Walker, P. (2018) ‘Flu outbreak: UK deaths triple with GPs seeing major rise in patients’, The Guardian, 18 January. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/18/flu-outbreak-gps-under-huge-pressure-as-deaths-soar-to-120 (Accessed: 22 October 2018).

Public Health England (2018) Influenza vaccines for the 2018/19 influenza season. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/733430/Ovalbumin_influenza_vaccine_content_table_2018_2019.pdf (Accessed: 22 October 2018).

Rosenblatt, K. (2018) ‘Unvaccinated child dies from flu in Florida’, NBC News, 17 October. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/cold-and-flu/unvaccinated-child-dies-flu-florida-n921056.

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