How effective is the flu jab?


Individuals have the freedom of choice to decide which substances they allow or do not allow to enter their bodies. This freedom extends to vaccines. It is important that you make an informed decision about whether the flu jab is suitable for you or your child. Here we look at the pros and cons of getting the flu jab for various demographics, to provide you with as much info as possible before making your choice!

Pregnant Women

The flu jab has frequently been linked to the development of autism in babies born to mothers who received it while pregnant. The BMJ has reported studies which showed a 20% increase in autism spectrum disorder in children whose mothers were given the flu jab in the first trimester of pregnancy. Studies such as these are extremely controversial within the medical community.

Thiomersal is a mercury-containing preservative which can damage the brain if taken in large doses. Its presence in vaccines like the flu jab fuels concerns that the injection causes ASD. However, both the NHS and the WHO state that the doses of this preservative included in many flu vaccines are so small, that there is no risk of them damaging the brain. Moreover, both globally influential health organisations state that there is no scientific evidence that proves a link between thiomersal in vaccines of any kind and Autism. The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS), established by the WHO, and tasked with investigating the matter concluded that:

The most recent pharmacokinetic and developmental studies do not support concerns over the safety of thiomersal (ethyl mercury) in vaccines. Consequently the committee determined that there is no reason on grounds of safety to change current immunization practices with thiomersal-containing vaccines as the risks are unproven.

The flu can quickly develop into serious and potentially life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia when the virus is caught by expectant mothers. This is why leading health bodies have made such an effort to dispel fears about thiomersal and ensure that as many pregnant women as possible get the flu jab. A killed vaccine is offered to these women instead of a live vaccine, to reduce the risks of complications arising from a live form of the virus entering their bodies.

Pregnant women are particularly at risk from flu – photo by freestocks.org

Children

The NHS has removed thiomersal from vaccines administered to babies and young children in order to mitigate any concerns regarding the development of autism in children who receive these injections. This includes the flu jab.

There is one clear downside to giving children the flu jab – they probably don’t like them! Many children dislike needles and the ensuing drama and difficulties that parents face when they taking their child to the doctors can be off-putting. This can lead to some children not receiving injections as regularly as they ought to.

To counter this problem, the NHS now offers the flu vaccine as a nasal spray. The application of two sprays (one to each nostril) annually is enough to protect children aged 2 and above against the flu. By saving children from the often traumatic experience of getting injections, the nasal spray protects them from the flu without putting them off going to their GP’s surgery as they grow older. As the nasal spray is a live vaccine, it also spares children from frequent booster shots (more injections).

The flu jab is still recommended for children who have weakened immune systems, diabetes, or heart conditions. This is because they could be susceptible to infection if the live influenza virus contained in the nasal spray entered their bloodstream. The flu jab is also free from pork gelatine (contained in the nasal spray) and so is an ideal alternative to the spray for parents who object to their children ingesting animal products.

However, parents of all other children who are not vegetarian or vegan should consider the nasal spray as a safe, effective and stress-free alternative to the flu jab.

The NHS now offers the flu vaccine as a nasal spray as a safe, effective and stress-free alternative to the flu jab – Photo by Chayene Rafaela on Unsplash

Over 65s

A brand new adjuvanted aTIV flu vaccine is being offered to over 65s this winter. Public Health England hopes that this stronger form of the vaccine will reduce GP consultations by 30,000 this year, while preventing 2,000 hospitalisations and 700 deaths from flu in hospitals across the UK. Adjuvanted vaccines boost immune responses to viruses and therefore prevent the aggressive strains of influenza which can be so damaging to over-65s from developing. Given the weakening of our immune systems which takes place as we age, this vaccine will do a huge amount to prevent a harsh winter from causing permanent damage.

The flu jab is a great way to protect your health and spend more time doing things you love as you get older. Photo by rawpixel.com

Health And Social Care Workers

Commonly these workers are advised to get the flu jab to protect themselves from any viral outbreaks that could occur over the course of their working day.  However, the individual has the right to choose whether or not they receive vaccinations. Questions have been raised over whether it is ethically right for employers in the healthcare sector to force staff to receive the flu jab, if they object to receiving it. Contributing to a debate in the BMJ, nurse Will Offley writes

Compulsion strips healthcare providers of a basic right guaranteed to every other patient – the right to informed consent.

In other words, as scientific evidence does not prove beyond reasonable doubt that unvaccinated health and social care workers are a source of infection for their patients, choosing not to receive the flu jab is a completely reasonable decision for these workers to make. Some organisations such as the NHS demand that if health workers refuse to receive vaccines such as the flu jab, then they justify their views in writing. So long as those choosing to avoid the flu jab have fully considered their views and can justify their positions to both their employers and any of their patients who may question them, then their right to make an informed choice before receiving any injections should be upheld, as it is for patients.

Questions have been raised over whether it is ethically right for employers in the healthcare sector to force staff to receive the flu jab – Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Everyone Else

The flu currently has no cure. A combination of vaccination as a child or in old age and excellent hand hygiene prevents what can be a highly unpleasant virus from spreading and leaving you feeling very unwell for a week of more. An annual flu jab is particularly important for adults who suffer from long-term health conditions. The risks posed to them by flu are significantly greater, as their weakened immune systems could allow serious strains of the virus to develop, which could leave them seriously ill for many months and could potentially prove fatal.

The best advice is to visit your GP, go through your medical history and then to make an informed decision about whether the flu jab is right for you or your child, once you are fully informed of all the options available to you.


DR ELENA KHAMZINA
General Practitioner

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London
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DR WENDY SNELL
General Practitioner

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London
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DR KANNAN ATHREYA
General Practitioner

First Visit £120
Essex
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