Flu Vaccine 2019: Which One Do You Need And When To Have It By?

Get your jab between the start of October and the end of November, ideally 🤧

It’s been a horrendous flu season in Australia this year. There were more than a quarter of a million (266,780) laboratory-confirmed cases up to the start of September, with more than 300 deaths. To put that into perspective, 2018 saw 58,000 cases for the entire calendar year. That’s a four-fold rise.

The good news is that the World Health Organisation (WHO) made a last-minute change to this year’s flu vaccine to factor in the main strain that’s circulating in Australia. However, there is a chance this year’s flu jab might be delayed until November, as the last-minute change has impacted the supply chain.

A spokesperson for Public Health England (PHE) tells HuffPost UK that while there have been concerns raised about the Australian flu season, what happens in Australia “is not a clear predictor of the UK’s flu season”.

But here’s what you need to know to be as prepared as possible.

Druzhinina via Getty Images

Who should get the flu vaccine?

The national flu immunisation programme aims to protect those at risk of becoming seriously ill from flu over winter.

It is offered free of charge (on the NHS) to the following groups:

  • adults aged 65 and over,
  • people with certain medical conditions (including children in at-risk groups from 6 months of age),
  • pregnant women,
  • children aged two and three on 31 August 2019,
  • children in primary school,
  • close contacts of immunocompromised individuals,
  • frontline health or social care workers.

Members of the public can also get this vaccine at their local pharmacy but will have to pay.

When is the best time to have them?

The best time, according to the NHS, is from the beginning of October to the end of November. However people considered at-risk might be invited to attend flu clinics before then (in September). The vaccine can be offered throughout the winter, so you won’t miss out if you haven’t had it by December.

What vaccines are available?

The standard jab

This year’s quadrivalent (four-strain) vaccine contains the following:

  • A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1) virus strain,

  • A/Kansas/14/2017 (H3N2) virus strain,

  • B/Colorado/06/2017 virus strain (B/Victoria/2/87 lineage),

  • B/Phuket/3073/2013 virus strain (B/Yamagata/16/88 lineage).

It is available free of charge to at-risk groups, while the general public have to pay (unless you can get it for free through a work scheme). There are two types of this vaccine, one is grown in eggs while the other is cell-grown.

The nasal spray

Children aged two to 17 years old, in an eligible group (see above), are offered the above quadrivalent vaccine (featuring the same strains), but given as a nasal spray instead of an injection.

The immune-boosting jab

People aged 65 and over are often given the adjuvanted trivalent vaccine, which works by improving the body’s immune response. This is important because typically older adults’ bodies do not respond as well to the flu vaccine due to their naturally weaker immune systems.

According to the NHS website, over 65s may also be offered a cell-grown quadrivalent vaccine. “Both vaccines are considered to be equally suitable,” the NHS Choices site suggests.

Where can you get the vaccine?

:: GP practices.

:: Pharmacies (including Superdrug, Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy, Asda and Tesco).

:: Some people may be offered the flu vaccine through their work’s health scheme.

:: Your midwifery service might also offer it if you’re pregnant.

Are there any side effects?

Side effects of the nasal vaccine can include a runny or blocked nose, headache, tiredness and some loss of appetite.

The injection can cause a sore arm, low grade fever and aching muscles for a day or two afterwards.

If you’ve had a severe reaction to a flu jab in the past, you’re advised not to have one again.

Is it suitable for vegans?

All of the recommended flu vaccines use animal-derived products in their production, a spokesperson for PHE says.

“The vaccines for the coming season are grown on either eggs or a cell line derived from an animal,” they explain.

Some vegans might choose not to have the flu vaccine because of the use of animal-derived products. However PHE notes that vaccination is recommended because it provides the best protection against serious diseases.

“The Vegetarian society recommends that those at risk continue to accept medicines they need, including vaccination,” they add.

What are the symptoms of flu?

Flu differs from the common cold in that symptoms are usually far worse. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose, while flu symptoms often come on quickly with sufferers experiencing a fever, a dry chesty cough, tiredness, the chills, joint pain or aching muscles.

Much of the time it will make them too unwell to do anything.

Other symptoms include: diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, a sore throat, a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.

Other ways to prevent flu

Practise good hand hygiene – for example, washing your hands with soap and warm water before preparing and eating food, or after using public transport –and avoid having unnecessary contact with other people if you or they are experiencing symptoms of flu.