/ Health

Achoo! Does the flu jab need a publicity injection?

As our freak heat wave comes to an end, the dreaded colds and flu will soon follow. Sneezes are already starting to resound around offices, homes, schools, and public transport. So will you be getting a flu jab?

Influenza is not to be sniffed at (sorry). Though many of us declare flu at the mere sound of a sniffle (guilty as charged), full blown (sorry again) flu is no fun. When I had flu in 2000, I was bed-bound and borderline delirious for a week.

NHS Choices has a good “what’s the difference” video, but in essence, flu comes on suddenly, gives you a very high temperature, headache, tiredness and general aches and pains.

On the other hand, the common cold (am I the only person who’d like a posh cold once in a while?) is more about the runny nose, cough and sneezes (“bless you”). However, both are highly infectious and spread rapidly.

The risk of influenza

While a cold may only make you think you’re going to die (I do a good line in melodrama) flu can be very serious for the very old, very young and those with underlying health conditions. Complications, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, are more common in these at-risk people.

And some strains are particularly virulent, such as those that combine with viruses from other animals (most notably pigs and birds), due to our bodies not having immunity to these strains when they first appear. Around 600 people die each year from seasonal flu – during a pandemic this will increase.

While there are only three main flu virus types (Type A, Type B and Type C) the viruses mutate, so a new vaccine is needed each and every year. Which is why those at risk require a flu jab on a yearly basis.

Do we need a national flu jab campaign?

I recently saw that the Department of Health’s flu jab information campaign will not materialise for a second year running. Senior doctors are up in arms at the news. They feel it’s negligent and could lead to those at-risk groups not getting a jab, potentially leading to greater numbers of complications and even deaths. While a campaign would be a good idea, I can see that the cost versus overall benefit might be prohibitive.

I’m very proactive about getting my jab and personally feel there are plenty of opportunities for people to be reminded about getting it. I’m reminded at my annual asthma check and there are always posters in the local pharmacy or my GP surgery if I forget. My GP also has a message to their phone on-hold system.

Moreover, with news stories about potential cold cures at two a penny, or if swine or bird flu looks like even a small risk of becoming an epidemic or pandemic, the media tends to do the campaign for free.

So do you think there should be a national campaign to remind people to get their flu jab? Or do you think GP surgeries should simply contact the people who are at risk? Perhaps you think we shouldn’t need reminding at all?


I’m not in a “high risk” group but have been used to getting a flu jab at work for the last umpteen years.
Having retired I can no longer get one – my GP’s surgery says that stocks are limited and only for “high risk” groups and wont give me one privately either which seems a missed opportunity.

Phil says:
4 October 2011

My employer used to provide them for free but stopped a couple of years ago. My doctor won’t provide them to non-risk groups either but for the last two years I’ve got mine from an independent pharmacy and last year from the pharmacy at the local supermarket.

Thanks Phil for that useful info – never thought of looking at supermarket pharmacies , and amazed how cheap the jab was
So the “general shortage of vaccine” quote is a myth !

Yes, I just saw today that Asda is doing flu jabs for £7!

Phil says:
6 October 2011

My pleasure. I get the impression a lot of people think you can only get a flu jab from a doctor and don’t realise that any licensed pharmacy, including those in supermarkets, can provide one.

I believe what happens is that GPs get an allocation every year from the DoH for the elderly and vulnerable but if they have any left over they can give them out on a first come first served basis. That’s certainly what seems to happen at my local surgery.

If there is evidence that flu jabs work then everyone should be offered them without charge. The best way of protecting those at risk is to ensure that they don’t come into contact with anyone with flu.

A lot of working time is lost through illness, so that is another reason to offer the flu jab to everyone.

Had read flu vaccines contain dissolved aluminium and other impurities that’s not good for you.

Have you wondered why your own GP and much of the front-line medical and nursing staff at NHS hospitals do NOT take such jabs.

Standing corrected in what I say and as to the above, there is a strong body of medical opinion in America that takes the view flu jabs should not be given freely to all, particularly those with a poor immune system. Check it out at mercola.com……

The US Alzheimer’s Association reckons that the danger of aluminium in flu jabs is a myth:

I had never heard about Mercola.com but I suggest you read what Wikipedia has to say about Joseph Mercola. It is not good.

No-one is required to have a flu jab but everyone should be aware that seasonal kills people, as mentioned in the introduction, above. When I go for my flu jab I will ask the nurse if the practice staff have had their injections..

About 5/6 years ago I caught a bad dose of flu, but didn’t realise how bad it was until I was having difficulty breathing. My doctor came out right away and prescribed antibiotics, but it was too late as I had developed COPD (loss of lung capacity). I now have to take 3 different inhalers, and cannot walk very far or up a steep slope. The condition gets slightly worse each year, and cannot be reversed.
In my view the risk of having the flu jab is much less than what I went through !!!

The number of deaths due to flu are well known. One of my parents was also left with permanent lung damage due to the flu pandemic of 1957.

It’s important to keep away from anyone who might have flu rather than just a cold.

My understanding was that the ‘flu jab was merely the medical profession’s ‘best guess’ of which strain might occur this year. I have turned down my offer of a ‘flu jab for the last few years and haven’t caught ‘flu. I have had some colds which of course the jab wouldn’t have prevented. Maybe I’m just lucky.
I do wonder whether there are hot spots of ‘flu-iness and also whether the jab is just the NHS way of covering the country. What if the strain people catch isn’t the one that has been vaccinated against?

…. nah… not for me too.

Dr Mercola says eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and EXERCISE adequately and not to worry too much about not getting an unnecessary flu jab…. of course, there may well be certain vulnerable groups for whom such a jab may well be recommended but it is no more than a recommendation.

A sister at a large NHS hospital I know never ever had such a jab and tells me doctors and nurses don’t have either, or at least amongst many of them.

Yes, correct strain of flu vaccinated against is also relevant, a ‘catch all’ vaccine is no good or
really not quite effective.

SaraJayne says:
7 October 2011

This. The flu vaccine isn’t the prevent-all it’s made out to be. There are several different strains all the time, and what’s been vaccinated against might not exist anymore by the time the vaccine is given.

Phil says:
8 October 2011

“Dr Mercola says….”

I’m reluctant to follow the advice of anyone who denies the link between HIV and AIDS. A healthy lifestyle will not protect against flu. It was the young and healthy who died during the pandemic of 1918 and who are vulnerable to H1N1 swine flu now.

The annual flu jab protects against the three most likely strains, this has to be predicted six months in advance to enable stocks to be manufactured so there are times when they get it wrong but more often the choices are correct.

wmgib says:
7 October 2011

Its complete nonsense. what evidence is there that these jabs make any difference. The main difference it makes is to the pharmaceutical industry’s coffers and shareholders. They start all this scaremongering. What tosh!

Diane says:
7 October 2011

I have been having flu jab for a number of years as I am also suffer from asthma but every year I am ill within a couple of days and last year it was very bad triggering a severe attack of IBS which lasted for over a week. I have been told one doctor that I should not have the jab due to my IBS but my asthma nurse says if I get the flu I am going to be very ill so I just don’t know what to do.

Bernard says:
8 October 2011

I’m 76 and a retired medic – had my jab this morning along with several hundred other patients of my excellent general practice.

I have a tendency to irritable bowel and have had bad flue twice in the past – I know which I fear the most – flue


“The annual flu jab protects against the three most likely strains, this has to be predicted six months in advance to enable stocks to be manufactured so there are times when they get it wrong…. ”

How can a particular flu strain be predicted with reasonable accuracy in advance let alone six months before mutation(?) begins… (even you yourself have said they get things wrong at times….)

My understanding from my GP is flu vaccines are, by and large, pretty much the same from year to year, a supposedly ‘cure or catch all’ situation that surely can’t be right every time.

Did Dr Mercola say anything about the correlation between HIV and Aids…have not come across what
he is purported to have actually said.

Missing the point here. The question is Do we need a national flu jab campaign? We don’t as those of us in at risk groups are aware of the need for flu vaccination and get it as a matter of course. As an aside, I think it ridiculous that everyone who wants it shouldn’t be able to get it freely thus reducing the risk of infection for themselves and the rest of us. For those who don’t, please remember to sneeze into a tissue.

I agree. There should have a flu vaccination campaign for the benefit of everyone.

The vaccine is not perfect, because it depends on the World Health Organization correctly forecasting the relevant strains by tracking the appearence and spread of different flu strains around the world. In my experience, it is highly effective, especially in the first few months after vaccination (by the Spring there is a greater probablity of unforseen strains appearing).

Please read Wikipedia on flu vaccine and Mercola’s background before believing anything from websites marketing their own untested cures. Wiki says, amongst other things…
– 84% of “physicians and dentists” take the vaccine (I suppose that is US data)
– the vaccine gives significant “herd benefits” even to people who are not vaccinated: vaccinating children in Japan saved the life of one adult for each 420 vaccinations.
– clinical trials show its benefits clearly outweigh any drawbacks, even if only considered in financial terms (lost working days).
The anti-vaccine position supposes a massive conspiracy by the world’s medical professionals.

I may be missing something but how can you say it’s ‘highly effective’. Surely you’re trying to measure something based on the fact that nothing happened? If you follow that logic I have found NOT having the vaccination highly effective as I haven’t caught ‘flu either.
I haven’t had real ‘flu (not just a bad cold) in many years so I question whether the NHS is just spending money vaccinating broadly when a more targeted strategy (eg. by hotspot) might be as effective.
I’m afraid I’m just not conviced by ‘forecasts’ and ‘predictions’…Russell Grant anyone?

Charlie says:
10 October 2011

I am 64 years old. I lead a fairly healthy lifestyle and very seldom suffer colds. About 7 years ago I developed angina which, apparently, put me ‘at risk’ and meant that I was entitled to a Flu jab annually. That first year I accepted the offer. The following year I had 4 of the worst colds I have ever experienced in my life. I even had to take time off work, which is anathema to me.I’ve never had another one and have no intention of ever doing so.