We've been sitting in our surgeries recently and getting lots of questions about the flu vaccine. The roll-out happens every year, and lots of people are up-to-date with most of the general information surrounding it. Now and again we get asked questions that keep us on our toes, and we've collated these here for your interest.
First up is how long it takes to gain protection after having the vaccination. Like all vaccinations, the flu jab works by stimulating the immune system into a defence response. This does take time: the science suggests it can take 1 to 2 weeks until you are fully protected. Getting your vaccination early will ensure you are protected as soon as possible.
The flu vaccine used to be unusual in requiring yearly top-ups. The COVID-19 vaccines have changed that - it's early days but it is possible that you will be offered a COVID-19 booster and a flu jab at the same time. Can you have them both together? Yes - the experts have deemed it safe and effective to receive both at the same time.
The pneumococcal vaccine is offered as a one-off for adults with certain health conditions or those over 65. This is also fine to have at the same appointment as your flu jab, and protects against a particular type of pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis.
For any other vaccines you're considering, such as travel vaccines, your doctor, practice nurse or pharmacist will be able to advise you.
Each year the flu vaccine is made to try and target the specific strains of flu that are likely to cause trouble. Viruses constantly change and evolve, so our vaccines have to as well. On top of that, immunity can wane.
Fighting flu is a worldwide effort. As flu is active in the autumn and winter, we in the northern hemisphere share information with those countries in the southern hemisphere about active flu virus strains, as the Australians have their winter 6 months before (or, indeed, after) us here in the UK.
It takes 1 to 2 weeks to build protection after receiving your flu jab, then will get peak protection for that season for around 3 to 4 months. So it's worth getting your flu vaccine early enough in the season to give you maximum protection. This applies especially from December to February, the coldest months, and the time we're most likely to be cosy and warm together indoors - perfect for droplets to spread in coughs and sneezes.
Your doctor or medical practice should notify you if you are eligible for a flu vaccine and they will give you the lowdown on when and where to book. Flu vaccines are offered to those who may be vulnerable if they got pneumonia - this includes the frail or elderly, certain long-term health conditions and pregnant women. If you do not meet the criteria, you can buy one privately - they're widely available at pharmacies and other outlets.
The flu vaccine is also offered free to all children. For those aged 2 to 16, and this is a live vaccine in the form of a nasal spray, rather than a needle. School will usually arrange this if they are at school, otherwise their GP practice if under school-age. If they have certain serious health conditions, it can be offered from 6 months onwards.
Children are at particular risk of getting very unwell from the influenza virus, causing bronchitis and pneumonia, so if you are contacted by your doctor, do put it on your priority list to get this booked, or sign the consent form for school.
A common question pops up regularly regarding egg allergy. This is because some flu vaccines are made by replication in egg embryos. Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist for a low-egg or egg-free vaccine.
If there are other constituents of vaccines that you have had allergic reactions to in the past, it would be best to discuss this with your doctor. It may still mean it's safe to have it, but there are other options such as having it in a more medically controlled environment.
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