Flu vaccination can offer protection across the generations

Published: Tuesday, 20 September, 2016 - 10:57

Autumn marks the official start of the seasonal flu vaccination programme for 2016/2017, so the Public Health Agency (PHA) is urging people to ensure that all eligible family members get the free flu vaccine when offered it.

The vaccine changes each year to cover the strains which are likely to be prevalent over the course of the flu season, so it is important to get immunised annually.

In addition to people over 65, ‘at risk’ children and adults, and pregnant women, GPs across Northern Ireland will be inviting pre-school children aged two years and over to receive their free flu vaccine. Meanwhile, children in primaries one to seven will be offered the flu vaccine in school.

The flu virus spreads easily and quickly, infecting both adults and children alike. This can lead to days spent in bed rather than being at work or school, causing considerable inconvenience for the whole family, not to mention putting more vulnerable family members at risk.  

Dr Lucy Jessop, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, explains the importance of the flu vaccine: “Everyone who receives an invitation to be vaccinated against flu should see it as a positive step in protecting their health and the health of others around them. 

“The same unpleasant flu symptoms are experienced by both adults and children – fever, chills, aching muscles and joints, headache and extreme tiredness. These symptoms can last between two and seven days and for some can lead to serious illness and result in a stay in hospital.

“The flu vaccine does not give you the flu. It is offered as the best protection to people over 65 and ‘at risk’ groups because if they get flu, they are more likely to have severe illness and/or develop complications such as pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.

“Pregnant women are also more likely to have serious illness if they catch flu, which is why they will be invited by their GP at all stages of pregnancy, to help protect them and their unborn baby.”

The flu virus spreads through the air when people cough and sneeze without covering their nose and mouth, and because young children don’t always cover their noses or mouths when coughing or sneezing, the virus can spread very quickly among them.

Dr Jessop continued: “Because the virus spreads easily, pre-school and primary school children will also be offered the vaccine, giving them the best protection and also helping to protect more vulnerable members of their families too. We would ask parents not to forget to sign and send back the consent form to school for your primary school children, and to take up the GP’s invitation for pre-school vaccination, or they may miss out.”

Most children receive the vaccine via a quick and painless nasal spray. The nasal vaccine has been shown to provide even greater protection for children than the flu injection. There are a few children who cannot receive the nasal spray and they will be offered the injection instead.

Recently adults of working age have been particularly affected by flu and some have experienced the most serious complications. Many of these cases were previously healthy people with no underlying conditions. Health and Social Care staff are being urged to get vaccinated, to help protect themselves, their families and those they care for and help reduce the spread of flu in health and social care settings.

Dr Jessop added: “Traditionally uptake rates for flu vaccination are very high in Northern Ireland which is a result of the hard work and dedication from all involved in the health and social care, and the excellent response from patients, taking their GP’s advice that they need the vaccine. So make sure everyone who is eligible for the vaccine gets it – whether they are two years old or over 65, it is important that they get vaccinated.”

As it takes approximately two weeks following vaccination to develop maximum protection against flu, it is important to get vaccinated early. Flu vaccination clinics are just getting started and everyone should aim to have the vaccine by early December. If you wait until flu starts circulating, it may be too late for the vaccine to protect you.

For further information see: www.fluawareni.info