Seasonal Flu Vaccine
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious disease of which there are many different variants and sub-types. This variety is what makes the flu vaccine so contagious despite repeated exposure and vaccination. In this article we take a look at the seasonal flu vaccine and why it’s used, and answer some of your general questions about the vaccine.
Flu season is considered to be the months between October and January or February, and in this time the changing weather impacts our immunity, making us more susceptible to the influenza virus that flourishes in these months. There are very many different variants of the flu virus, and each is subtly different despite belonging to the same class of virus. This variety poses our immune systems and our health services a unique problem: how to address the seasonal flu safely and prevent its transmission to people who would suffer more severely from the flu infection.
While the flu isn’t more than a nuisance for most of us, it does pose a serious medical threat to people belonging to certain high risk groups. These include people suffering from chronic diseases, the elderly (aged 65 and above), and the immunocompromised (HIV sufferers etc.). These people are unable to effectively fend off the virus themselves, and an influenza infection can cause serious complications which can seriously jeopardise their health.
In 2009 a seasonal flu epidemic caused by the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, spread rapidly and affected many people from high-risk groups causing serious illness. This event highlighted the importance of seasonal vaccination, and since then a number of schemes have been devised to increase the delivery of seasonal flu jabs (discussed in more detail in the later sections of this article).
The Seasonal Flu Jab
Because there is so much variation amongst flu viruses, a new flu vaccine needs to be developed every year. This vaccine is formulated with the strains that are considered most dangerous, for example, the H1N1 strain that caused the swine flu epidemic has been included in seasonal jabs since 2009.
If you want more details about the strains included in the yearly jab you can usually find these online or through your GP. Rest assured however that careful research is performed into which strains should be included in your vaccination.
The seasonal flu jab is an important preventative measure as the treatment for flu , even in severe cases, is not as effective as vaccinating and protecting against the disease. Remember that the seasonal vaccine only confers its protection for the upcoming season, and you will need another vaccine the following year to protect against the ever-evolving influenza virus.
Where can I get the flu jab from?
People who fall into an at-risk group can receive a flu vaccination for free on the NHS from their GP. Ultimately the decision about whether or not to vaccinate against the flu on the NHS is made by the GP based on their medical assessment of your health. If you are considered healthy enough to withstand a mild flu infection, then if you want the jab you will need to arrange for it at a price from a private practice.
Healthcare professionals are advised to take the flu jab because the nature of their work brings them into contact with people vulnerable to the disease.
Future flu initiatives
Because of the benefits of vaccinating against the flu, there are initiatives moving forward to introduce an annual flu jab for children between the ages of 2 and 17. This was recommended by the JCVI, or The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, an organisation which monitors immunisation programmes and makes recommendations to improve them.
The hope is to introduce an annual nasal spray vaccine by 2014. This will not only reduce infection rates, but also limit the viruses’ ability to spread into vulnerable communities, and would be a great step towards preventing future flu epidemics.
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