Flu Vaccine: Jab Effective For Just One In Three Cases Last Year, Is It Worth Getting It?

Person receiving a vaccine
Jeffrey Hamilton via Getty Images
Person receiving a vaccine

Last winter, the flu jab proved effective in just one in three cases. With this in mind, is it actually worth forking out for the vaccine this year?

A study from Public Health England revealed that just one third of adults benefitted from the jab last year. This, they believe, is because of the unpredictable nature of the virus.

The flu vaccine has to be re-formulated each year based on a calculated guess from scientists. They hope to match the jab with strains of the virus that are likely to be around that season.

Professor Paul Cosford, PHE's director for health protection and medical director, said that in previous years the vaccine has seen "around 50% (ranging from 25 to 70%) effectiveness" in the UK.

"There has generally been a good match between the strains of flu in the vaccine and those that subsequently circulate," he added. "However, last year we saw a slightly lower vaccine effectiveness than usual."

Flu is a common infectious viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes. It is caused by a different set of viruses to the common cold and the symptoms tend to start more suddenly, be more severe and last longer.

Typically, those with flu will experience a high temperature, tiredness and weakness, a headache, general aches and pains, and a dry, chesty cough.

According to the NHS, "if you're otherwise fit and healthy, there's usually no need to see a doctor if you have flu-like symptoms". Instead, doctors advise resting at home, keeping warm and drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

"Stay off work or school until you're feeling better. For most people, this will take about a week," reads the site.

Some people are at greater risk of developing serious complications from flu, such as bronchitis and pneumonia. These include older people, pregnant women and those with a health condition, even one that is well managed.

The flu vaccine is available free on the NHS to those considered "at risk". In pharmacies and supermarkets it can cost anywhere between £7-£20.

With health experts witnessing lower effectiveness from last year's flu jab, it's worth considering other options that could help keep the dreaded lurgy at bay this winter.

Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, explains that the flu jab has been "well evaluated" and, in the past, has been shown to be "very

effective" against the strains of flu that it is active against.

However there are other options out there to consider.

"For those who are not eligible for the flu vaccine, an anti-viral medication such as Tamiflu can provide some relief," she says.

"Tamiflu contains the active ingredient oseltamivir, which belongs to a group of medicines named 'neuraminidase inhibitors' and work by preventing the flu virus from spreading inside the body, in turn easing or preventing the symptoms from occurring."

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Help For Flu Symptoms

Other preventative measures include adopting good hygiene by washing your hands regularly, cleaning surfaces such as your keyboard, telephone and door handles, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Dr Nitin Shori, medical director of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service and a working NHS GP, believes that a healthy lifestyle helps to keep the immune system strong and offers a better chance of keeping flu at bay.

"But even those with the healthiest of lifestyles can find themselves suffering a bout of winter flu," he says.

For Dr Shori, the best port of call is still the flu jab. "While it doesn’t offer a 100% guarantee that you won’t catch flu, it does significantly lower the risk," he says.

And he's not the only one who believes so. Professor Cosford from PHE firmly believes that the flu vaccine is worth it.

"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 which can cause severe illness and deaths each year among at-risk group," he said.

According to NHS Choices, the best time to have the vaccine is between September and early November.