What is influenza vaccination?
The influenza (flu) vaccination helps to reduce the risk of contracting influenza, a potentially serious virus that can affect the respiratory system (nose, throat and lungs).
Influenza infection usually resolves without treatment, but some people may be more vulnerable to complications. Some of those at risk include children under 5 years old, pregnant women, people aged above 65, and people of any age with weakened immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions. When vulnerable people contract the flu, it can potentially be life threatening.
What does the vaccine do?
The flu vaccine helps your body to begin making antibodies against influenza virus. These antibodies provide you with increased immunity against influenza infection by attacking the virus when your body is exposed to it. It may take around 2 weeks before the vaccination has taken full effect.
There are many different strains of flu and these can change each year. That’s why it’s important to get an annual vaccination prior to the onset of flu season, as it will help to protect you against whichever strains are most likely to be circulating. You should also get an annual vaccination because your antibodies that defend against influenza can decrease over time.
Who should get the vaccine and when?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone above the age of 6 months gets an annual flu vaccine.
If you fall into the category of people who are at high risk of developing flu related complications, it is especially important that you get the vaccination. You are considered high risk if you:
- Are above 65 years old,
- Are less than 5 years old,
- Are pregnant (all stages),
- Live or work with many other people (i.e. doctors, military barracks or nursing homes, teachers),
- Have a weakened immune system (e.g.. if you have HIV or cancer, or are taking aimmunosuppressive medications or chronic steroids),
- Have a chronic condition (such as diabetes, heart disease, COPD, asthma, blood disorder like sickle cell disease, chronic kidney disease, among others), or
- Are considered obese (with a Body Mass Index of over 40)
The vaccine can safely be given during pregnancy and breastfeeding
Who should not get the vaccine?
- Children less than 6 months
- People who have had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine in the past or have a severe allergy to any vaccine component.
These recommendations apply to the inactivated influenza vaccine.
- Children above 6 months old and adults: one dose
- Children 6 months to 9 years old who have never received the vaccine before: two doses 4 weeks apart.
These Doses are according to the BNF for adults and children.
It is not suitable for people who fall outside of that bracket or those who:
- Have taken anti-viral flu medication in the previous 2 weeks and avoid flu vaccine 48 hours after stopping the antiviral treatment.
- If egg allergy (previous anaphylaxis) can be immunized with egg free Flue vaccine. Or with flu vaccine containing ovalbumin less than 120nanogm/ml
Are there any risks or side effects?
Most side effects associated with the flu vaccination are mild. Common symptoms may include soreness, swelling or redness at the vaccination site. There may also be some additional symptoms such as:
- Fever (if children under 2 years old)
- Muscle aches
- Dizziness or feeling faint
Some studies have found a possible association with a rare condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) but this is fewer than 1 or 2 people in one million people vaccinated.
Vaccines (available in our clinic) can be safely administered to people with a history of egg allergy or egg anaphylaxis. Studies have shown that influenza vaccines containing less than one microgram of ovalbumin do not trigger anaphylaxis in sensitive individuals.