Ade Williams was the 2017 UK Community Pharmacist and the Inaugural Royal Pharmaceutical Society Patient Champion for 2017. Here he explains to MT what the flu jab is all about and why you should make sure you get yours:
There are many myths surrounding flu and the flu vaccine and misinformation can lead to patients making wrong decisions. Here are some common misconceptions and the truth behind them:
Flu is just like having a heavy cold, isn’t it?
The common cold and flu get confused as they share some similar symptoms, such as a sore throat and a runny nose, but the symptoms of flu are much more severe and potentially serious.
Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and include a high temperature, tiredness, headache, cough and general aches and pains. These can last up to two weeks, and in some people, develop into more serious illnesses – such as bronchitis and pneumonia – resulting in hospital admissions.
I heard the flu vaccine gives you flu
No, it doesn’t. The injected flu vaccine given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses, so it cannot give you flu. If you’re exposed to the flu virus after you’ve had the flu vaccine, your immune system will recognise the virus and immediately produce antibodies to fight it.
It doesn’t have any mercury in it either! (another misconception).
I heard that there are side effects
The NHS advises that serious side effects of the injected flu vaccine are very rare. You may have a mild fever and aching muscles for a couple of days after having the vaccine and your arm may be a bit sore where you were injected.
Side effects of the nasal spray vaccine may commonly include a runny or blocked nose, headache, tiredness and some loss of appetite.
Healthcare staff giving flu vaccinations are fully trained to deal with allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) and, with prompt treatment, individuals make a quick and complete recovery.
Contact your pharmacist or GP if you experience severe side effects that do not improve over time.
I never get flu
Even if you only get a mild reaction to a flu virus, you can still pass it on to others. Your jab counts; it protects you and contributes to protecting everyone else, including the vulnerable. To attain what is termed ‘‘herd immunity’’ – vaccinating enough of the population to protect us all – 75% of eligible individuals need to have the flu jab. Remember the earlier you get the jab, the better protection it offers.
I read every year that the flu vaccine doesn’t work, so why bother?
This year, the vaccine offered has changed. NHS England has recommended that the more effective adjuvanted trivalent influenza vaccine (aTIV) for all those aged 65 and over. This change reflects the evidence of previous years and a commitment to ensure cost does not impede us offering the best. While no vaccine can provide 100% protection, you know you are getting the best available.
Having your flu jab remains the best way to prepare for the winter months. Flu is the single most significant cause of death of patients with long-term respiratory diseases and long-term chronic health conditions. Each year, in the UK, up to 10,000 deaths are attributable to flu, particularly amongst the elderly population and those with existing medical conditions.
Early vaccination is encouraged because it takes about two weeks after the jab to gain optimal protection. As the antibodies that protect you from flu decline over time, and flu strains can also change from year to year, you need to have a flu vaccination every year.
I’ll get antibiotics from my GP
Viruses cause influenza and so antibiotics are of no use in treating flu symptoms. Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections.
I can never make it to the flu vaccination clinic at the GP Surgery
If you have an issue attending your GP surgery, remember that all community pharmacies in England offer the free NHS funded flu jab. Most offer a walk-in service, with no need to book an appointment, so pop in and have a chat with your community pharmacist.
In my time working in pharmacies in the USA, Canada and now the UK, I can confidently say that onions, goose grease and socks (dirty or clean) will not cure you if the flu nabs you! Go and get your jab today and better still, take your partner or friend along too.