Why you should receive the flu jab
Every autumn, adults (and some children) in the UK are encouraged to get the flu vaccine. Not only does influenza cause hundreds of thousands of death around the globe each year, but it also impacts the economy by forcing people to take sick days.
The flu vaccine is very easy to access, however, it continues to be a serious health risk for certain at risk groups. Additionally, people may be exposing themselves to the virus unnecessarily through contact with unvaccinated people.
Most people who become ill with the flu find that the worst symptoms last for around one week, and involve a fever, headache, aches & pains, fatigue and coughing.
What are the benefits of receiving the flu jab?
There are a variety of benefits to receiving the flu jab, not least that it can help you avoid catching the flu. The flu can be very unpleasant, and while most people will feel better within a week, it makes sense to take steps to avoid catching it in the first place.
The flu jab helps you avoid catching the flu
The flu vaccine contains strains of the flu virus which triggers an immune response to create antibodies. Antibodies are proteins found in blood which attach themselves to foreign invaders and signal your immune system to destroy them. The flu vaccine is based on scientific research conducted by the WHO (World Health Organisation) who annually predicts what strain of the flu virus will likely be in circulation for the upcoming year.
If you’ve had the jab and are exposed to the flu, your body will recognise the virus and immediately start producing the antibodies to fight it. For many people this means they avoid catching the flu, and for others it means they still catch it but experience milder symptoms.
The flu jab can reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalisation
Symptoms of the flu are more intense than symptoms of the common cold, meaning for those in high risk categories (over 65, high BMI etc.) there can be serious or even fatal complications from the flu, for example:
- Chest infections – a common complication from the flu is a bacterial chest infection such as bronchitis, or in some cases a more serious development of pneumonia.
- Complications with pregnancy – the strain that infection puts on your body can result in premature labour, low birthweight or even miscarriage or stillbirth.
- Worsening of chronic health conditions such as asthma or diabetes.
In January 2020 the number of people in hospital with the flu was 10 times that of the previous year. This puts a lot of pressure on the NHS and public health system.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) also conducted a US study on the 2017-2018 flu season and discovered that an estimated 6.2 million cases of flu were prevented by the vaccine, meaning 91,000 hospitalisations and 5,700 deaths were prevented.
The flu jab may help cut heart attack rates
A number of case studies have been carried out that indicate those who receive a yearly flu jab are at a lower risk of having a heart attack. The flu virus attacks the respiratory system, which the heart relies on, and in some cases it can attack the heart muscle. Those who have previously experienced heart attacks or are living with heart disease are particularly vulnerable to flu-related cardiac events.
The flu jab can be life-saving in children
Young children are at high risk of developing complications from the flu virus.
A 2017 study by the CDC has shown that getting the flu vaccine can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from the flu.
The flu jab reduces the severity of symptoms in those who still get sick after the vaccination
A flu vaccine is the most effective form of protection against the virus, although protection is not 100 percent guaranteed. This is because the virus is constantly changing and different strains are in circulation, making a completely effective vaccine difficult to formulate.
However, if you do catch the flu even after getting the jab, you are likely to experience milder and shorter lived symptoms.
Another US study by the CDC looked at flu seasons from 2012 to 2015 and found the following:
- Flu vaccinations in young adults reduced their risk of flu-related general hospital admissions by 37%.
- Flu vaccinations in young adults reduced their risk of flu-related ICU admissions by 82%.
Getting vaccinated can help protect others around you with low immunity
The benefits of getting a yearly vaccine not only extend to you but to others around. This is a concept known as ‘herd immunity’, which means that if enough people are vaccinated, the virus finds it harder to spread because less people are getting infected. If someone with the flu is surrounded by people who have received the flu jab, it is far less likely to spread out to the wider population.
A small number of the population cannot safely receive the flu jab and therefore rely on herd immunity for protection.
The NHS advises that in long-stay residential homes, vaccines prevent the rapid spread of the flu among residents. The same could be said for other communal living set ups, e.g. house shares and student halls.
Who is at risk from the flu?
For people who fall into an at risk category for the flu, it’s strongly recommended that they get vaccinated along with their partner. If you fall into an at risk group, however, the flu can be far more dangerous, leading to severe illness and even death. The at risk groups for flu are:
- Older people (e.g. the over-65s)
- Pregnant women
- People with certain long-term health conditions such as asthma, COPD, chronic kidney disease, hepatitis, Parkinson’s and diabetes
- People with a weakened immune system due to an illness, or as a result of medication or certain medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy)
When people from these groups contract the flu virus, they are far more likely to suffer serious complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia. People with pre-existing conditions may find that their illness worsens when they have the flu, and pregnant women may go into premature labour or even miscarry.
My partner falls into one of these groups. What should I do?
If your partner falls into an at risk category for the flu, it’s strongly advised that both of you receive the flu vaccine. This is because the flu vaccine is never 100% effective in preventing infection. Even if your partner has received the jab, they may still be vulnerable to infection; receiving the vaccine yourself will limit their exposure to the virus and reduce their risk.
Remember too that the flu vaccine changes every year. To stay protected both of you should get vaccinated once a year, ideally in October or early November.
Can I receive the flu jab for free?
You're eligible for a free NHS flu vaccine if:
- You're over 50
- You're pregnant
- You have asthma or a lung condition
- You have chronic heart disease
- You have diabetes
- You have a chronic kidney or liver condition
- You've had a stroke
- You have an illness or are taking medicines that affect your immune system
If you fall into one of these categories, you can book a free flu jab through LloydsPharmacy. If you're not eligible, you can pay to get a flu jab from LloydsPharmacy. Find our more by visiting the LloydsPharmacy flu vaccine service page.
How else can I avoid the flu?
If you want to avoid contracting the flu, the best thing to do is receive the vaccine. In addition to getting vaccinated, you should also take these precautions during flu season:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water, particularly after spending times in crowds or on public transport
- Keep keyboards, kitchen counters, telephones and door handles clean
- Avoid sharing cutlery, crockery, towels or toothbrushes with other people
If you contract the flu and you’re concerned about passing it on to an at risk person, remember that the flu is spread by the germs in coughs and sneezes.
You should always cough and sneeze into tissues and throw them into a bin as soon as you’ve used them. Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water, and try to avoid prolonged close contact with at risk people.
For more advice, consult this guide to preventing the spread of germs. For more information on the flu in general, speak to your GP or consult our articles, which have been compiled by our doctors.