It’s flu vaccination season! This may not seem overly exciting, but I can assure you it fills most GP surgeries with utter dread. For a few weeks a year, hundreds and thousands of patients will be invited to attend practices up and down the country for their annual jab. Logistical nightmare is an understatement! However most would agree that the benefits of protecting the more vulnerable members of our society from the influenza virus far outweigh any potential disruptions to normal services. This year children aged 2, 3 and 4 will also be offered immunisation against the flu and in some parts of the country older children will also be invited for vaccination as part of a pilot scheme.
The word flu gets bandied about fairly easily. We talk of ‘man-flu’ in a jokey sense and for some people the slightest sniffle gets categorised as ‘flu’. Yet proper flu or influenza is no laughing matter. Flu causes a high temperature, muscle aches, headaches, and can wipe even usually fit and well people off their feet. Of more concern are more serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia and less commonly heart and nerve problems. Even in this day and age hospital admissions and sadly death still result from flu.
With the advent of a readily available vaccination programme, one would hope that flu would become a much less significantly problem nationally. However the issue of vaccination still seems to be, for some, a very emotive one, fraught with anxiety and fear. I don’t really wish to embark on an essay about the benefits of vaccination schemes and I’m sure it would come as no great surprise that I am wholeheartedly in favour of them. When I started writing this post all I had really planned to do was scribble a few bits about the children’s flu vaccination, but for some reason I now have the urge to very briefly touch on one aspect of the ‘vaccination debate’ that I feel is oft maligned. You may, or may not, have previously come across the concept of ‘herd immunity’. Essentially this refers to the positive effects of mass immunisation on the whole population. There are various reasons why some people are unable to be vaccinated e.g. those with poor immune systems, patients undergoing chemotherapy, tiny babies or the very frail and poorly. Ironically these people are more likely to catch infectious diseases and suffer significant complications as a result. If the vast majority of the population are immune to a given disease, it makes it much more difficult for the illness to spread. Thus non-immunised people become protected by virtue of most other people already being immune. Perhaps this is something to consider if you are wavering on the vaccination front. If you are really keen here is a short, if rather simplistic, YouTube video explaining the concept of Herd Immunity using gummy bears, or for a slightly drier, more grown up version have a look at this.
Anyway, after my digression, back to flu vaccinations. The children’s version of the adult injection is, rather pleasingly, a nasal spray. Hopefully it shouldn’t cause too many tears or distress, and is delivered in 2 separate sprays into each nostril. It is what is known as a ‘live vaccine’, which means that a weakened dose of the virus is administered, and triggers off an immune reaction in the body.
The vaccine brand currently being used by the NHS is called Fluenz Tetra. Although it has only been used routinely in the UK recently, it has been widely given in the US for the past 10 years and as a result there is pretty robust safety and effectiveness data. The common side effects include reduced appetite, runny nose, headache or a feeling of general unwellness. There are a few extremely rare side effects such as allergic reactions, and there are some people for whom the vaccine isn’t suitable e.g. children with egg allergies or weakened immune systems from cancer/chemotherapy. From my point of view, for most children, this is a fairly easy and straightforward vaccination to have and potentially will protect them from a few weeks of nasty illness or potentially worse.
I’ve already posted this short video but thought it was too good not to show again. It’s aimed at children and should prepare them for their trip to the doctors. I’ll certainly be showing it to my two before they get vaccinated, as with a newborn on the way I definitely don’t want to be taking any chances with unnecessary illness this year!