The flu vaccine has featured heavily in recent news, with reports that people are avoiding having the vaccine as they are concerned about its swine flu component. The British Medical Association (BMA) has written to the government, warning about the “myths” that are circulating about the safety of this year’s seasonal flu vaccine. It said that the regular seasonal outbreak could be much more serious as a result of the low uptake. Dr Laurence Buckman, Chairman of BMA’s GPs Committee, said:
“Family doctors are already seeing high rates of influenza and they have been telling us that they are also seeing a lower uptake than usual for seasonal flu immunisation. Myths persist about the safety of the vaccine, especially after swine flu. The vaccine has been thoroughly tested and we strongly urge patients to make an appointment with their GP and get vaccinated.”
People in at-risk groups are urged to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Pregnant women are being offered the seasonal jab for the first time as they have been judged to be at greater risk from the H1N1 virus. Professor David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation at the Department of Health said:
"The effects of flu are not to be underestimated. It is not the same as getting a cold and can seriously affect your health.
"If you are in a risk group, then I would urge you to visit your GP surgery and get the vaccination as soon as possible. It is not too late to get vaccinated for your protection and that of your family."
What’s in this year's flu jab?
This winter, the H1N1 strain of the flu virus is one of three strains of flu that the seasonal flu jab protects against. H1N1 is the same strain of flu behind last year's swine flu pandemic. The other two strains of flu that this year's jab protects against are H3N2 and B.
It is important to realise that the vaccine to protect against H1N1 is created in the same way as vaccines for other strains of flu. Its inclusion in this year’s seasonal flu jab poses no additional risk. It is included simply because it is one of the major flu strains circulating in Britain this winter.
For more information about the way in which the seasonal flu vaccine is made and tested, see Seasonal flu jab - about the vaccine.
Who should be vaccinated?
Certain people are at greater risk of developing serious complications of flu, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. These may require hospital treatment. A large number of elderly people die from flu every winter.
The seasonal flu vaccine is offered free of charge to these at-risk groups to protect them from catching flu and developing these complications.
Also, this winter (2010-11) the seasonal flu vaccine will be offered to all pregnant women who have not previously been vaccinated against H1N1 (swine) flu.
It is recommended that you have a flu jab if you:
- are 65 or over
- have a serious medical condition (see box)
- live in a residential or nursing home
- are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if you fall ill
- are a healthcare or social care professional directly involved in patient care
- work with poultry
If you are the parent of a child (over six months) with a long-term condition, speak to your GP about the flu jab. Your child's condition may get worse if they catch flu.
If you are the carer of an elderly or disabled person, make sure they have had their flu jab.
How do I get vaccinated?
If you think you need a seasonal flu vaccination, check with your doctor, nurse or local pharmacist.