We ask a doctor for the flu jab facts including who and where to get it from and who’s most at risk

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How important is it to book in for the flu jab and who actually needs to? A debate that reached fever pitch at Get The Gloss HQ the other day thanks to the rather concerning number of colds, coughs and germs that were making the rounds, we decided to clear the confusion once and for by asking Dr Richard Peabody, Head of Flu Surveillance at Public Health England . Here’s what we found out...

GTG: Who should get the flu vaccine?

RP: The influenza vaccination programme is a long-standing programme and it’s very much focused on protecting individuals who are at serious risk of facing severe consequences if infected with the flu.

These people would be the elderly and those who are under 65 who suffer from underlying health problems such as asthma for example. It also now includes pregnant women as of the new programme that was introduced in 2009 which was created in the interests of protecting both mothers and their newborn babies too. The final group involves a recent programme that started using a nasal vaccine. It’s targeted towards children between the ages of 2 and 4 to both protect them and also reduce risk of transmission to those who come into close contact with them.

Those who look after patients, the vulnerable or the elderly such as health and social care workers are also recommended to get the flu vaccination in order to protect themselves and to reduce the risk of passing it on to those they look after.

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GTG: Where can we get the flu vaccine?

RP: It depends. For the programmes included through primary care services, (i.e. pregnant women, those with underlying problems or children between the ages of 2 and 4), they can get it through their GP. For those who are under a health care worker programme, it can be delivered through their place of work under the NHS.

It is possible for healthy adults to also have the vaccine, however it wouldn’t be available on the NHS and they would have to pay for it through their GP or through pharmacies that also provide the vaccination nationwide.

GTG: Who shouldn't get it?

RP: There are small numbers of individuals for whom the vaccine carries contraindications, such as those who have developed serious allergic reactions to it in the past. However, these cases are very rare. Those who have egg allergies, reactions can be more common, but on the whole they’re relatively unusual. Even in these cases, the vaccine can just be administered under special controls. The main issue lies with the new nasal vaccine. Certain groups may not be able to have it as it contains an attenuated (active) virus and so it wouldn’t be suitable for people who have a suppressed immune system. We’d recommend the injectable vaccine instead in these situations which contains an inactive virus.

GTG: Can you still get the flu even if you’ve had the vaccination?

RP: It’s important to know that lots of different respiratory viruses circulate during the winter, so if you do get the jab and get a respiratory illness, it could be caused by something else. The flu vaccine won’t protect against that or the common cold either. The vaccine itself isn’t 100% effective but it is the best form of prevention that we have for reducing the risk of getting the flu.

GTG: When is the best time to get it?

RP: The programme usually starts being rolled out in the early autumn around the end of September or early October. We try to ensure that the programme is delivered before influenza starts to circulate in the run up to Christmas.

GTG: What are the main flu jab side-effects?

RP: Side-effects are rare, but they do sometimes occur after having the injectable vaccine. In some cases, there may be a bit of soreness which is the most common. For the intranasal vaccine, some may experience a runny nose or minor upper respiratory problems, but these are less common.