Should You Get Your Flu Jab?
I got a text message from my doctor’s surgery telling me I was eligible for a free flu vaccination. I’ve never had one before, I’ve never had a text to say I was eligible for one before, but really, I should have been getting them for a while. And so should you!
The NHS in the UK gives the flu vaccine for free to children, the elderly, pregnant people, carers, those in residential care homes, NHS staff, and those with certain medical conditions.
The NHS gives the flu vaccine for free to those who are most likely to have complications related to catching flu (children, the elderly, pregnant people, and people with certain medical conditions such as asthma or autoimmune conditions); and those who could easily pass it onto vulnerable people (carers and NHS staff).
But even if you don’t fall into one of these groups, the flu jab is inexpensive. Boots do it for £12.99, in Superdrug it’ll set you back £9.99, but the supermarket pharmacies are leading the way – according to LoveMoney, Tesco is only £9, with ASDA charging £7. But why would you bother to fork out twice the price of your meal deal for vaccination against a disease you’ve never had, or if you have, you’ve gotten over it just fine?
“You probably said some overdramatic things like “will I ever be able to breathe through my nose again?
The frustrating thing about flu is that many confuse it with a cold. You likely had a cold last year, and you probably felt a little miserable about it for a few days (and said some overdramatic things like “will I ever be able to breathe through my nose again?”). I used to get four colds a year, regular as clockwork — you could set the date by them. But I’ve never had flu. Because there is a difference between a cold and the flu. When I was younger, a friend’s mum said the difference is that if there was £50 at the end of your bed and you had a cold you’d sit up and get it, with flu you wouldn’t. Read more about Do headphones cause hair loss?
Flu is much worse than some sneezing and a bit of a headache. Although there is some overlap in that you’ll probably feel congested and have a sore throat, there is much more to flu — with you feeling much more unwell overall, rather than just feeling it in your nose and chest. According to the Guardian, 30,000 people visited a GP with flu-like symptoms in the second week of January this year, and 120 people had died from flu between October and that point – up almost three times on the previous year’s figure. In that same week, nearly 600 people were admitted to the hospital with flu, with a third of them needing intensive care.
“If you’re generally healthy, you’ll probably get over it on your own relatively easily.”
So getting the flu can be extremely dangerous – but getting the flu jab isn’t necessarily about preventing you from getting the flu. After all, if you’re generally healthy, you’ll probably get over it on your own relatively easily. Getting the flu jab is about protecting those who can’t get the vaccine (because, for example, they’re immunocompromised.)
Vaccines work on the principle of Herd Immunity – it’s why we were able to eradicate Smallpox; it’s why Polio looks to be next on the list. It’s also why a drop in childhood immunizations means diseases that are almost eradicated can quickly spread through populations.
Simply put, if everyone who can get vaccinated (and not everyone can) does get vaccinated, it means that even those who can’t get vaccinated are protected – because no one else in the ‘herd’ can get ill because they’re vaccinated. In other words, if you have 100 people, and 98 are vaccinated, the two people who aren’t vaccinated would need to meet (or at least touch the same surface within a short space of time) for the flu to spread. And even then, it can’t spread beyond them because everyone else is vaccinated.
“Getting flu really feels bad, so if you can reduce the risk of getting it for yourself and for others, why not do so?”
Herd Immunity is also important for those who can have the vaccine, but who may not be protected as effectively as a healthy person. For example, vaccinations are less effective for people who have problems with their immune systems, because vaccines rely on the immune system recognizing the denatured microbe, making the antibodies for it, and then having those antibodies ready if you get infected with the real deal.
Similarly, the BMA has reported that there aren’t enough vaccines specifically designed for people over 65 – which means that there are elderly people in the UK who are having to get a vaccine that’s less effective for them (and some who are missing out altogether).
Of course, there are some side effects to the flu jab that should be considered, including feeling run down, sickness or diarrhea, and (in a minority of cases) allergic reactions. But overall, the flu jab (like all vaccines) is safe – and getting flu is terrible, so if you can reduce the risk of getting it for yourself and others, why not do so?