28 November 2022

Do I need a flu jab? TV’s Dr Hilary answers all our winter vaccine questions

28 November 2022

You’ve seen the ads urging you to get your flu jab, perhaps your mum, neighbour or friend told you they got theirs-  but you just haven’t made time. The flu isn’t much worse than a cold really anyway, right?

Well, unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

As celebrity doctor Dr Hilary Jones points out: “11,000 people die of influenza in a good year” – according to NHS England figures alone. The total is more once you factor in figures for the rest of the UK and Ireland on top of that.

And even if you’re not personally at risk of serious complications, somebody around you might be – and flu can still leave you pretty poorly and bedridden, resulting in time off work and feeling rubbish for days.

So, getting your flu jab could be a sensible idea all round – whether or not you’re eligible for a free one.

As winter lurgy season sets in, we asked Dr Hilary to answer all our most pressing questions about flu jabs…

Why is the flu jab important this year?“The winter vaccines campaign is really important because if we look at Covid and the flu now, we are expecting another peak after Christmas as people mingle more indoors. If you have it now, you are more likely to spread it to other people. Immunity wanes after the first vaccination for Covid,” says Jones.

“Australia has had a bad winter for flu, and we expect to see that reflected in our winter over here, now that all of our immunity is lower following Covid restrictions.

“This could be an awful winter, we have seen such high levels in the Southern hemisphere of flu, and Covid is back around a lot again. Exposure to both would be bad news for lots of people,” he stresses. “We know it is safe, so it makes sense to have it done. I have had it done.”

Should younger people get the flu jab?

The NHS vaccine programme offers free flu jabs to those deemed generally at higher risk of getting seriously unwell from the virus – including anyone aged 50 and over, as well as people with certain health conditions, their carers, and pregnant women.

However, even if you’re not eligible for a free jab, you can still pay to have one – often very easily at high-street pharmacies too.

“If you are in your 20s or 30s, the flu jab is not free but you can get the vaccine privately and it is sensible to do that,” Jones says. That way, you can protect yourself and those around you.

Can I get both winter vaccines together?

Jones says he got the flu and Covid vaccine at the same time. “If they are available where you are, you can get them together. It is just as effective and safe, with no increased local side-effects. There’s no reason to hesitate,” he says.

“The flu vaccine doesn’t contain any live virus, so it is a myth that it can give it to you. If you feel bad, it’s probably a cold,” Jones adds.

Can I still get flu if I have the jab?

Unfortunately, yes. As Jones explains: “You can still get flu after the jab because it is based on the three worst circulating viruses and is designed to protect you against those, not all.”

So, while you could still get flu, generally speaking the chances will be lower and it would likely be more mild.Why do some people get so sick with flu?

Sometimes, it’s hard to be certain whether somebody has the flu or just a bad cold. But flu really can wipe you out and leave you feeling quite unwell – people’s bodies can sometimes react differently.

“Some people get sicker because of their baseline immunity. Now, we are all more vulnerable to it post-lockdowns,” says Jones.

How are the strains of flu protected against being chosen?

Jones explains: “When deciding what strain to protect against, the WHO looks at the viruses that pose the biggest threat to the population at large.”

Should I get the jabs if I am pregnant?

Jones believes this is wise, as the vaccine helps protect both pregnant women and their babies, which is why they are amongst those offered free jabs.

“In pregnancy, it is even more important to have it done, it is very safe, has no adverse side-effects, and the risk is greater if you don’t have it than do,” he says. “Your baby is more likely to be delivered prematurely, low weight or stillborn if you get Covid or flu in pregnancy.”

Where can I book?

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