There’s been a lot of talk about the new vaccines popping up for covid, and rightly so. This disease is running our lives at the moment – those lives that it’s spared. But there’s something else you should be vaccinated against – the flu.
In coronavirus discourse, a lot of the critics are comparing it to the seasonal flu. Our editor-in-chief had corona symptoms back in March, and keenly tells me that while it’s very different from the flu there are some similarities too. She had a similar cough and generally crappy feeling and of course there is one thing that is very much the same – it kills.
According to Public Health England (page 54), in 2019/2020, seasonal flu killed just shy of 8000 people in the UK. Of course, this is a small fraction of the 63,000 coronavirus deaths* , but you have to consider one thing in regards to the flu statistics – we vaccinate people for it.
The NHS gives the flu vaccine free for to those who are most likely to have medical complications related to catching flu (children, the elderly, pregnant people, and those with certain medical conditions – such as asthma or autoimmune conditions), and those who could easily pass it on to vulnerable people (carers and NHS staff). According to the same report by Public Health England (page 57), over 11 million people aged over 6 months were vaccinated in England alone. That’s a whole lot of people who could have added to that 8000.
If you don’t fall into one of these groups, and the NHS won’t jab you for free, this doesn’t mean that you can’t protect yourself and others. The jab is pretty inexpensive, and you can have them done in a pharmacy with covid protocols if you don’t want to chance trying to see your doctor. In Boots it’s £13.99, Superdrug is £12.99 but the supermarket pharmacies always seem to be the ones leading the way. With the high street pharmacies upping their price on last year, the Tesco jab is still £9 – although at the time of writing it is listed as “currently unavailable” on their site – and Asda have added a pound to their cost but are still the cheapest at only £8. Eight Great British pounds isn’t bad to protect yourself against seasonal flu.
And it is in fact worth getting, even if you are generally healthy. We always seem to confuse the flu with a cold – where you feel a little bit miserable and say overly dramatic things like “will I ever be able to breathe through my nose again?” But as the above statistics show us, it really isn’t. But getting the flu jab isn’t necessarily about preventing you from getting (and maybe dying from) the flu. Getting the jab is also about protecting those who can’t be vaccinated (because, for example, they’re immunocompromised).
Vaccines work on the principle of Herd Immunity – it’s how Smallpox was eradicated, and Polio looks to be next. It’s also why a drop in childhood immunisations (thanks to the anti vaxxers) can lead to diseases that are usually unheard of spreading rapidly through populations.
Simply put, if everyone who can get vaccinated (and not everyone can) does get vaccinated, it means that if those who can’t get vaccinated are protected – because nobody else in the ‘herd’ gets ill and passes it on to them. In other words, if you have 100 people, and 98 are vaccinated, the two people who aren’t would have to meet each other (or touch the same surface with dirty hands) in order for the flu to spread. And even then, it’s still only the two of them with the disease.
And this year, it’s even more important to protect yourself and others from the flu, because coronavirus primarily affects the same organ systems. The most notable symptom is a new, continuous cough, and according to the experts interviewed by National Geographic, it is possible to have both infections at the same time. With damaged respiratory tissue due to one virus, the second one is likely to be harder to fight off. Which is definitely a problem.
The flu vaccine is never 100% effective – the jab provides protection for what they think is the best guess for what will be the most prevalent strains of flu. And some people’s immune systems don’t respond to the vaccine with the protection that we would like. But it is still more effective than not doing it. According to the National Geographic article, the rates of winter flu in the Southern hemisphere have been reduced this last year, but it’s largely due to vaccination efforts, and other protective measures like reduced contact, social distancing and mask wearing.
Of course, there are some side effects to the flu jab that should be considered, including feeling run down, sickness or diarrhoea, and (in a small minority of cases) allergic reactions. But overall, the flu jab (like all vaccines that get approved) is safe – and getting flu SUCKS, so if you can reduce the risk of it for yourself and for others, why not do so? It’s even more important this year than ever.
*correct at the time of writing
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