It’s that time of year again. The nights are getting longer, the trees are turning brown and it’s time to talk about the flu vaccine. As the simple way to guard yourself against the flu virus, you’ll be wanting to book yours with your GP or pharmacist as soon as possible, providing you’re eligible. However, this year there are some changes to the 2018 flu vaccine that patients need to be aware of.
Flu in the UK
Winter 2017-2018 saw the worst flu epidemic since 2011. GP surgeries saw high levels of flu incidences per 100,000 consultations, while the number of flu deaths was higher than usual. This led to calls for a strengthened vaccine, providing protection against further strains.
While flu can be unpleasant, symptoms generally last around a week and people in good health generally recover well. However, those with underlying health problems are at risk of developing further complications from flu such as pneumonia.
A vaccine is the most effective way to prevent flu, and is offered every year ahead of the flu season, which normally begins in October.
About the flu vaccine
The flu vaccine or ‘flu jab’ is available from GPs and from pharmacies, and there are many people considered ‘at risk’ who qualify for free vaccines, which include:
- Over 65s
- Pregnant women
- Children aged 2 and 3
- School pupils in years 1-5
- People suffering from long-term health conditions or with weakened immune systems (asthma etc)
This year the NHS has urged all health and social care workers to have the vaccine to help prevent its spread, particularly in frontline departments.
Other people are welcome to pay for a flu vaccine, which costs up to £20. Flu vaccines are available at some pharmacies and supermarkets, and you don’t need to inform your GP.
What’s different about the 2018 flu vaccine?
The 2018 flu vaccine programme offers three different types of vaccine:
- A live quadrivalent vaccine administered as a nasal spray which protects against four strains of the flu virus. It’s designed for children aged 2 to 17 years.
- A quadrivalent injected vaccine. This protects against four strains of flu and is aimed at adults aged 18 -65 who are a higher risk of flu because of long-term health conditions, as well as children aged 6 months and above who are unable to receive the live vaccine.
- An adjuvanted trivalent injected vaccine aimed at those who are 65+, which protects against three strains and is considered the most effective vaccination.
The flu virus changes each year, so even if you received a flu jab last year, it’s recommended that you have the 2018 flu vaccine. New vaccinations are designed each year to deal with the new virus strains to help ensure the best protection.
The 2018 flu vaccine provides additional protection compared to last year’s, protecting against four strains instead of three for those at risk from flu. It is hoped that this move will reduce GP flu consultations by 30,000 and lead to 2,000 fewer hospitalisations and 700 deaths.
Flu puts an enormous strain on NHS services each year, and it’s hoped that the move to a stronger, more effective vaccine will help ease the pressure.
You can help prevent the spread of flu by booking your flu vaccination, as well as practicing good hygiene to stop the virus in its tracks. If you are in the ‘at risk’ category, make sure you book your 2018 flu vaccine appointment with your GP.