With the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is more important than ever to ensure you and your loved ones are taking all precautions to protect their immune system this winter. Flu vaccines will be available from mid-September and it’s important to know about the benefits and importance of getting this vaccine and understanding how it works.
To help with this, we have put together this blog post, giving you all the information you need any answering any frequently asked questions relating to the vaccination.
What is the flu?
Firstly, it is important to know what the flu is and how it can affect us. The flu is a highly contagious illness caused by the influenza virus. The virus infects your lungs and upper airways, which results in the characteristic symptoms of the flu such as a sudden high temperature, general aches and pains and a headache. The flu can make you feel extremely weak and you may find it difficult to even get out of bed. The symptoms of the flu generally last for up to a week but can often leave people feeling drained and tired for a number of weeks.
Flu affects people of all ages and in some people it can cause serious complications such as pneumonia. The flu can be a life threatening illness and in Ireland, between 200-500 people die from the flu each year.
How does the flu vaccine work?
The flu vaccine helps your immune system produce antibodies to fight the influenza virus. If you have been vaccinated and you come into contact with the virus, these antibodies will attack it and stop you from getting sick.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
Anyone aged 6 months and older can get the flu vaccine. Certain ‘at risk’ groups are more likely to experience complications of the flu if they were to catch it. Therefore, it is highly recommended that anyone who falls into one of these groups should get the vaccine every year.
These ‘at risk’ groups are entitled to receive the vaccine free of charge:
- People aged 65 years and over
- Pregnant women
- People (adults and children) with long-term medical conditions such as
- Heart disease,
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Chronic lung disease including COPD
- Neurological diseases
- People whose immune system is impaired due to disease or treatment, including cancer patients
- Persons who are obese who have a body mass index (BMI) of over 40
- People with Down syndrome
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-stay institutions
- Healthcare workers
- Carers and household contacts of people at medical risk of the complications of flu
- People with regular close contact with poultry, water fowl or pigs
In addition to the above, this year the government have announced that the flu vaccine will be available to all children aged 2-12 years free of charge. For children in this age group, they will be given a nasal spray vaccine.
For anyone who does not fall into one of the above categories, a charge will apply.
Who should not get the flu vaccine?
You should not get the flu vaccine if :
- You have had a severe allergic (anaphylaxis) reaction to a previous dose or any part of the vaccine.
- You are taking medicines called combination checkpoint inhibitors (e.g. ipilimumab plus nivolumab)
- Your vaccination should be re-scheduled if you have an acute illness with a temperature greater than 38°C.
Vaccinations and COVID-19
Vaccinations for people with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 should be deferred until they are no longer self-isolating (i.e. both of these must apply - the person has not had fever for 5 days or more and it has been over 14 days since they first developed symptoms).
Nasal Spray Vaccines
There is a nasal spray flu vaccine available in Ireland this year called ‘Fluenz Tetra’. The nasal spray vaccine is given to children aged 2-18 years.
Side effects of the flu vaccine
The most common side effects of the flu vaccine are mild and do not last long. They include soreness, redness or swelling where the injection was given. Headache, fever, aches and tiredness may occur. These side effects do not mean that you are getting flu and can be easily treated by taking paracetamol or putting a cold compress on the site of the injection.
As with all vaccines, there is a rare chance of a severe allergic reaction occurring. As the majority of these will occur within 15 minutes of getting your vaccine, you are asked to remain in the vicinity of the pharmacy for this time as all pharmacists are trained to deal with this.
Important notes about the vaccine
It may take 10 to 14 days for your immunity to build up fully after you have had the flu vaccine. It is also important to note that you should receive the vaccine every year. This is because the flu strains change from year to year, therefore last year’s vaccine may not work on this year’s flu strain. The flu vaccine must be gotten every year in order to stay protected.
People will often ask if the vaccine can give them the flu but it’s important to know that this is a myth! The injected flu vaccine doesn’t contain any live viruses; therefore it cannot give you the flu.
Flu vaccine effectiveness
The flu vaccine is the best protection you can get against an unpredictable virus. The Flu can cause unpleasant illness in children, severe illness and death among at-risk groups, including older people, pregnant women and people with an underlying physical health condition.
Studies have shown that the flu vaccine will help prevent you getting the flu. It will not stop all flu viruses and the level of protection may vary, so it's not a 100% guarantee that you'll be flu-free. However, if you do get the flu after your vaccination, it's likely to be a milder and shorter-lived illness than it would otherwise have been.
Differences between the flu and COVID-19
Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. Please note, the flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19. There is currently no vaccine available to protect against COVID-19.
Best time to get vaccinated
Getting vaccinated in July or August is too early, especially for older people, because of the likelihood of reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season. September and October are the best times to get vaccinated so make sure to register your interest here so we can alert you when the vaccine arrive. It will be available from mid-September until April.
Making an appointment for the flu vaccine
Please contact one of our stores directly or pop in to add your name to our list. Click here to find out our store locations so you can find the one closest to you.