Flu can be quite unpleasant but if you are fit and healthy most people recover well from flu within 7-10 days. However, pregnant women, and those adults or children that have underlying medical problems (such as asthma) tend to take longer to recover and have a higher incidence of hospital admissions should they contract flu. For this reason the NHS has offered flu vaccines to “At risk” groups for several years.
The flu vaccine is required once a year. It is not a live vaccine so the flu vaccine will NOT give you flu. A deactivated flu virus is injected or intranasally given to encourage your own immune system to produce antibodies. It takes about 10-14 days for your immunity to build up and then you should be protected from several strains of flu. The flu jab does not protect against all the different strains of flu although each year it is adapted to cover the most prolific strains.
There are now two types of flu vaccination – the nasal spray (Fluenz) and the injection.
The nasal spray (Fluenz) is a great new development and means that it can be given quickly and easily (one squirt up each nostril). If your child falls into an “At risk” category (ie. has an underlying medical condition) and requires the flu jab they will be offered Fluenz by their GP.
If your child is under 2 years of age and requires the flu jab they will have to have an injection. This is because the nasal spray (Fluenz) is not licensed for use in children under 2 years old. The reason being that studies show a slightly higher incidence of wheeze in babies who were given Fluenz. For this reason, if your child has severe asthma your GP may chose to offer the injection rather than Fluenz.
The nasal spray, Fluenz is not currently available to adults so pregnant women will still have to have the injection.
Do not worry if you or your child is not yet eligible for the nasal spray yet still requires the flu vaccine, as the injection is generally tolerated very well. It is given via a tiny needle and although the arm can ache for a little while afterwards, children do not seem to mind the jab. Most adults tell me they barely feel it!
In addition to “At risk” children, this year, the NHS is rolling out a vaccination programme so that all children aged 2 & 3 years old will be offered nasal Fluenz. You can contact your GP surgery or school nurse to find out if your child is eligible for Fluenz this year. Next year the NHS are hoping to roll out this vaccination programme further with the aim to vaccinate all children under 16 annually.
If you would like to have the vaccine as an adult but are not eligible for vaccinations on the NHS (as not in the “At risk” groups or pregnant), you can pay around £7-£15 to have the flu vaccine in most high street pharmacies. If you do want your child to be vaccinated, it is best to contact your GP to discuss this with them.
NB. Those who have an egg allergy must not have the flu injection or Fluenz.
By Dr. Emma Potter MBBS BsC MR-CGP DFSRH