Why it matters

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Getting your flu jab or not is an important decision that you have to make each year.  To help, the flu fighter team at NHS Employers have pulled together some information on flu and the vaccine.  If you have any more questions or concerns please speak to your occupational health department, vaccinator, flu lead or GP.

The facts

Flu kills

Public Health England estimated that an average 8,000 people die from flu in England each year. Some years that figure reaches 14,000. That's more than eight times the number of confirmed cases of measles (91), mumps (717) and rubella (5) combined in 2015

You can spread flu to your patients with no symptoms

Without any knowledge of it happening, you could give flu to the patients/service users you take care of and potentially cause severe complications or even death. A Lancet study indicates up to 77 per cent of people with flu have no symptoms. Keep in mind that up to one third of influenza deaths are in healthy people as this mortality study indicates.

Are you thinking straight?

This idea of unrealistic optimism involves people believing negative things are more likely to happen to others, while positive things are more like to happen to them. 

As a person who spends a majority of their time around less healthy patients, you may have a skewed view of what the average level of health is in the general public. Therefore, you are more likely to perceive yourself as above average health-wise and less in need of preventative action.

You may also believe you have more control over a situation than you really do by believing using sterile equipment and washing your hands is sufficient protection, but the flu vaccine is the single best protection against flu.

The evidence

Flu vaccine evidence

  • A trial published by The Lancet, concluded that vaccination of healthcare workers was associated with reductions in total patient mortality. In the randomised control trial,  total patient mortality reduced from 17 per cent to 10 per cent in patient who were in long-term-care hospitals. 
  • One study showed that flu vaccination was associated with a 71 per cent reduction in flu-related hospitalisations among adults of all ages and a 77 per cent reduction among adults 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.
  • Flu vaccination is an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions. Vaccination was associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, especially among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year. Flu vaccination also has been shown to be associated with reduced hospitalisations among people with diabetes (79 per cent).
  • Other studies have shown that vaccination can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalisations in older adults. A study that looked at flu vaccine effectiveness over the course of three flu seasons estimated that flu vaccination lowered the risk of hospitalisations by 61 per cent in people 50 years of age and older.
  • Public Health England has run a pilot study of flu vaccination on school children and the results indicate primary school aged children have 94 per cent lower GP influenza-like illness if vaccinated, compared to the unvaccinated group.
  • study showed that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related paediatric intensive care unit admissions by 74 per cent during flu seasons from 2010-2012.
For more information on why it's important for healthcare workers to get their jab, read our clinical evidence guide.

Flu vaccine effectiveness

UK studies (1,2) have shown that the seasonal influenza vaccination lowers the risk of influenza infection.

There are two factors involved in determining the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. The first is the characteristics of the person being vaccinated and the second how good of a match there is between the circulating influenza strains and the vaccine itself. If you want to see how the flu mutates and the vaccine is developed this flu cycle infographic should help.

Professor Paul Cosford, PHE’s Director for Health Protection and Medical Director, said:

"In recent years, we have typically seen an effectiveness of around 50% (ranging from 25 to 70%). Whilst it’s not possible to fully predict the strains that will circulate in any given season, flu vaccination remains the best protection we have against an unpredictable virus."

The flu vaccine has an excellent safety record

The risk of having a serious (anaphylactic) reaction to the seasonal flu vaccine is less than one in a million , which is lower than the risk of getting seriously ill from having the flu itself. If you have had a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a flu vaccine before, please talk to a clinician before getting vaccinated. If you have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to hens’ eggs, you should ask about vaccines with a very low egg content and be vaccinated under clinical supervision.  

The truth about flu

The flu jab can’t give you the flu

It's impossible to get flu from the flu vaccine because the adult vaccine doesn’t contain live viruses. A very small number of people experience side effects such as aching muscles, but this is simply the immune system responding to the vaccine.

The side effects of the flu vaccination are mild

For the most part, seasonal flu vaccine side effects are mild or often non-existent. The most common side effect is soreness around the site of the injection and occasionally aching muscles. These symptoms are a lot less serious than having flu.

You need the vaccine every year

If you were vaccinated last year, you joined to fight against flu and took an extra step towards excellent patient care. Please do the same again this year. You won’t be protected against the new strains of flu that are circulating. 

Pregnant women can be vaccinated

Pregnant women can have the flu vaccine at any stage of their pregnancy.  Vaccination helps protect women during pregnancy and their babies for up to 6 months after they are born. One study showed that giving the flu vaccine to pregnant women was 92% effective in preventing hospitalisation of infants for flu.

Further reading

If you want to find out more on the evidence that supports flu vaccination in frontline staff have a look at the following guides:

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