As the colder months arrive and we approach winter, professionals across the UK are urging at-risk people to book themselves in for a flu jab. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, this year's flu season could be far more dangerous than previous years. Therefore, vaccination is more important than ever. In fact, the government recently announced the biggest flu vaccination programme in UK history. More than 35 million people will be able to get the flu jab for free through the NHS in 2021.
We're here today to discuss the flu jab in detail. We'll be covering everything from flu symptoms, the effectiveness of the jab, and who should and shouldn't get the vaccination.
What Is Flu?
Flu (influenza) is a highly infectious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It often spreads through the air from coughing and sneezing, where infected droplets land on others who breathe them in and pick up the infection. Flu affects people of all ages. Whilst it's pretty unpleasant, it usually clears up within a week in healthy people.
Flu is most severe in older people and those with chronic health issues because it attacks the immune system. It can therefore lead to more serious health conditions such as pneumonia, sinus infections and worsening of existing conditions such as asthma.
There are three types of the flu virus: type A, B and C.
Type A is the most serious type of flu. It includes strains such as swine flu which are more likely to develop into pandemics. Type B is less severe and causes smaller outbreaks, usually in younger children. Type C is the mildest version, very similar to a cold.
What Are the Symptoms of Flu?
Symptoms range from mild to very severe. The most common symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever (38°C or higher)
- Muscular pain
- Sore throat
- Blocked nose
Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between a cold and the flu. However, a cold is much less severe so you will see reduced symptoms. A cold also develops gradually whilst flu symptoms will often appear suddenly and make you weak, usually resulting in being bed-ridden for a couple of days.
What Is the Flu Jab?
The flu jab is a safe and effective vaccine, offered to millions of people in the UK every year. It's designed to protect people against the most prevalent strains of the flu virus.
Because the flu virus mutates and changes all the time, you will need to get a vaccine every year to protect against new strains.
Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine?
Whilst anyone can get flu, it is more severe in those with existing health conditions and younger children as well as the over 65s. Last winter, the NHS offered the flu jab to even more people than usual, in light of the risk of flu and COVID-19 circulating together. The flu vaccination programme is being expanded even further this year.
People in the following groups can get the flu jab for free through the NHS in 2021/22:
- all children aged 2 to 15 (but not 16 years or older) on 31 August 2021
- those aged 6 months to under 50 years in clinical risk groups
- pregnant women
- those aged 50 years and over
- those in long-stay residential care homes
- close contacts of immunocompromised individuals
- frontline health and social care staff employed by:
- a registered residential care or nursing home
- registered domiciliary care provider
- a voluntary managed hospice provider
- Direct Payment (personal budgets) and/or Personal Health Budgets, such as Personal Assistants.
This year, COVID-19 means that health services are in real danger of being overwhelmed in the winter months. Therefore, it's vital to prevent as many flu cases as possible. For this reason, the NHS is offering the flu jab to more people than ever. If you’re unsure about whether you should get a flu jab, speak to your GP or pharmacist.
How Does the Flu Jab Work and Is it Effective?
The flu jab contains an inactive form of the flu virus. The jab causes your immune system to produce antibodies to the flu virus. Then, if you come in contact with the virus via an infected person, the antibodies attack it. Studies have shown that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine. If you do catch the flu after having the jab, your symptoms will be milder. Protection kicks in around 10-14 days after you have the vaccine and can last between 6 and 12 months. That's why it's important to have the flu vaccine each year.
Flu Jab Side Effects
It's important to note that the flu jab cannot give you flu because it does not contain a live flu virus. Most people experience very mild side effects, if any at all. The most common side effects of the flub jab are:
- Soreness around the injection site (upper arm)
- A slightly raised temperature
- Aching muscles
Does the Flu Vaccine Work the Same for Everyone?
While the flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu, protection can vary widely depending on who is receiving the vaccine (in addition to how well-matched the flu vaccine is with the influenza viruses in circulation).
Some people, including young children, elderly people, and people with chronic illnesses might not respond as well to vaccination due to weakened immune systems, but the flu vaccine can still provide some protection.
Is it Safe?
Millions of people have been receiving flu jabs around the world for decades. Severe reactions are extremely rare. You may receive some mild side effects such as soreness around the injection site and cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose or a sore throat, but these will only last a day or two. Many people have no side effects at all. In very, very rare cases, some people can have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine. However, in these cases, it usually happens straight away, in which case the person administering the jab will be able to treat the reaction immediately.
When Should I Get Vaccinated?
The best time to get the flu jab is from the beginning of October to early November. The vaccination takes around two weeks to start protecting you against flu, so it’s best to get it before winter flu season is in full swing. However, if you have missed this period, you can still receive the flu jab later in the winter.
How Do I Get a Flu Jab?
There are a couple of different ways to get the flu vaccine. You can make an appointment with your GP or at your nearest pharmacy. If you're pregnant, you'll be able to get the flu jab through your midwifery service. We recommend you make an appointment as soon as possible to ensure that the vaccine is fully effective. Primary school and secondary school-age children will be able to get the vaccine at school. Children get the vaccine in the form of a nasal spray rather than an injection.
Remember if you are still not sure whether you qualify for a free flu jab, speak to a health professional. They will be able to advise you further.
Keeping You Happy at Home
The thought of illness or injury can be very concerning, particularly for older people and those who live alone. Personal alarms are a simple, effective solution. To learn more, just read our in-depth guide or give our team a call on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our Contact Us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
Editor's note: we updated this article on 31st August 2021 to reflect the latest information.