When you think of the flu vaccine, you automatically think of your grandparents. After all, it seems that only the elderly are at risk of experiencing serious, and sometimes deadly, complications. But this picture is all wrong. As medical experts will attest, everyone should consider getting the flu vaccine.
"No matter how young or healthy you are, it is always beneficial to get the flu vaccine," says Dr. Daniel Atkinson, clinical lead at Treated.com. "Not only is it a debilitating illness that leaves you bed-bound for a number of days, any complications from the flu could lead to a hospital visit." According to Public Health England, 8,000 people are killed annually by flu.
Here's everything you need to know about the vaccine.
What does the flu vaccine do?
For the majority of people, the flu can be nothing more than a tiring inconvenience. But children, the elderly, and pregnant people, among others, can be at increased risk of developing complications such as pneumonia, states the NHS.
The flu vaccine is currently the only way to protect against the flu. But, per the NHS, it's not 100% guaranteed to protect you, and some flu viruses may still impact the body. Don't let that deter you, though, as a vaccinated person who gets the flu is more likely to experience milder symptoms.
The vaccine — which changes every year due to new strains of the virus — prompts the immune system to produce antibodies that "attack" the virus. If the virus enters the body post-vaccination, the immune system will therefore quickly respond to fight it off. It can take up to two weeks for this "immunity" to fully build up.
Who is entitled to a free flu vaccine?
Certain groups of people who are more likely to be detrimentally impacted by the flu can receive a free flu vaccine every year. GPs can assess individual needs, but the list usually is as follows:
- People aged 65 and over
- Pregnant people
- People with chronic medical conditions including respiratory diseases like asthma, kidney disease, liver disease, and neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis
- People with a learning disability
- People with weakened immune systems
- People with a BMI of 40 or above
- People who care for an elderly or disabled person
Those who are pregnant should pay particular attention to the flu vaccine because, as the NHS states, "there's strong evidence to suggest pregnant women have an increased risk of developing complications if they get flu."
A baby will also be protected from flu for their first few months of their life if their mother has been vaccinated.
Other people, such as those who work in frontline health or social care, or "children aged 2 to 17 in an eligible group are offered a live attenuated quadrivalent vaccine," are also entitled to the free vaccine.
Why should other people consider the vaccine?
"You may not be a high risk case for the flu, but you could come into contact with one of these groups and spread the infection if you aren’t vaccinated," says Dr. Atkinson.
If you're not eligible for the free vaccine, you should still consider getting it. Not just to help yourself, but to help protect those around you. This is especially true if you live with or spend a lot of time around a person with a weaker immune system. A U.S. study, published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal in 2015, found that vaccinating young low-risk adults helped lower the likelihood of flu in at-risk groups, including the elderly.
Unfortunately, younger and healthier people will usually have to pay for the vaccine. It can cost up to £20, according to the NHS. Side effects are mostly minimal. Sore arms may be experienced along with muscle aches and a mild fever.
The only people who should be wary of the vaccine are those who have experienced a serious allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine and those who have an egg allergy (as the flu vaccine is made using eggs). However, egg-free vaccines now exist so a suitable alternative can usually be found, per the NHS. If you have a fever, note that you should delay your vaccination until you're better.
"Vaccines start in September so you can get the vaccine now and you don’t necessarily need a doctor’s appointment to have it as some pharmacies offer the service," states Dr. Atkinson. "If you are getting the flu vaccine, it’s advised to get it before the end of November as the flu is more prominent between December and January."
And if you decide not to get the jab, remember that flu can easily spread, notes Public Health England. Stay at home if you have it and avoid spreading germs by adequately washing hands, sneezing into tissues, and immediately throwing said tissues away.