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Vaccines Q&A

Published on 26 January 2024 03:06 PM

At our recent Winter Health Event, Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, GP and Clinical Advisor to the National Vaccination and Screening Programme and Primary Care Team - NHS England, answered many questions relating to the COVID-19 and flu vaccinations.

Do I really need a flu vaccine seeing as I have never received one before?

When you reach the eligible age of 65 you will be invited to have your flu and COVID-19 vaccines.

While flu is unpleasant for most people it can be very dangerous and even life threatening for some. For those that are older, pregnant or with certain health conditions, catching flu can increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia or can make existing conditions worse. In winter, flu spreads more easily as we spend more time indoors with others.

It’s important to get  your vaccine as soon as you can when invited. If you are unsure chat or ask your GP or pharmacist.

Is the COVID-19 booster and flu vaccine necessary if I am healthy?

Yes, absolutely it is. It is not a question of our physical health, our biological age is a massive factor for risk and when we get an illness, say a cold, irrespective of how healthy we are, that has an impact on us. Sometimes we don’t realise how an illness will affect us. Vaccines protect us from getting extremely ill as well as protecting us from current strains. That is why even if we are healthy, it is important to get the latest flu vaccine and COVID-19 booster.

What are the side affects of the vaccines?

There are a few common side effects such as a sore arm. Some people describe feeling tired for 48 hours after and some get a headache. Take painkillers and plan time for rest after you have had your vaccines.

Can the vaccines be taken together or separately?

You can have them all together and they are equally affective. You may find you have a sore arm having had a vaccine in each arm although they can be taken in one arm. You could also have a shingles and pneumococcal vaccine if you are eligible, but most people will only be having the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time.

Are the autumn boosters safe?Yes - all flu and COVID-19 vaccines offered by the NHS have a good safety record. They have been tested on thousands of people across the world and have met the strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness outlined by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

You cannot get coronavirus or flu from autumn boosters. If you have any specific allergies let the vaccinator know and you will receive the right vaccine.

Do all flu vaccines contain pork gelatine?

No. There are two types of flu vaccine.

  1. The injectable vaccines DO NOT contain pork products and are mainly offered to adults.
  2. The nasal spray vaccine (Fluenz Tetra) offered to children DOES contain pork product.

For those who may not accept the use of porcine gelatine in medicines, an injectable vaccine can be made available for children also.

You can find more information for Muslims on flu vaccines from the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) here.

How many older people in London do not accept the flu jab?

London is behind the national average for both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines.  There is a lower take up among some communities. The NHS works directly with these communities as much as possible and find ways to make it easier for everyone. By 7 Jan 60.5% of Londoners over 65 had had a flu jab, compared with 73.3% across England.

How well does the flu vaccine work?

Usually flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by up to 60%.  No vaccine is 100% effective. However, it drastically reduces your chances of getting it (and passing it on to others), and it can lessen the severity of symptoms if you are infected with the virus.

Where can I get my vaccinations?

At a GP surgery, pharmacy, or vaccination centre in the community.  You can get a COVID-19 jab until 31 January 2024 or a flu jab until 31 March 2024, although you should do so as soon as possible. To see the options available to you now, please visit: www.

What if you have put off the flu vaccine until December, or even later?

It takes 10 to 14 days for the vaccine to work so the earlier you get your flu vaccine the better protected you will be as we go in to winter so book or visit your GP or pharmacist as soon as you can. The flu programme for this season will end on 31 March 2024.

Do I have to have a flu vaccine every year?

Each year, public health experts research which flu strains are most likely to be circulating. The strains that make up the annual flu vaccine each year may change. In addition, studies have shown that the body’s ability to fight off the flu after having a vaccine wane over time, so that is another reason why you need a vaccine each year.

Flu is just a bad cold

A bad bout of flu is much worse than a heavy cold. For those that are older, pregnant or with certain health conditions, catching flu can be very dangerous or even life threatening. It can

increase the risk of developing more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia or make existing conditions worse.  

  • Last winter, flu caused 14,500 deaths and over 50,000 hospitalisations in England.

You can catch the flu or COVID-19 from the flu or COVID-19  vaccines

Neither of these  contain active viruses so they cannot give you flu or COVID-19. Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards. More serious reactions are rare.

Flu can be treated with antibiotics

Viruses cause flu. Antibiotics only work against bacteria. A bacterial infection may occur because of having the flu, and you may be given antibiotics to treat that infection - this will not protect against the flu.

I have had the flu, so it is too late to be vaccinated

Flu is caused by several viruses, the immunity you naturally develop will only protect you against one virus. You could catch another strain.

I don’t have any symptoms, so even if I have COVID-19 I won’t give it to anyone else

Wrong. People who never get symptoms from COVID-19 may be less infectious than people who get symptoms, but they can still pass on the virus. In addition, the highest rate of infection transmission from those who do develop symptoms is the day or two before they start feeling ill.

I won’t pick up/transmit the COVID-19 virus because I’m vaccinated

This is not true. The COVID-19 vaccines are between 65-95% effective at preventing symptomatic disease with higher levels of protection against hospitalisation and death. This means that some people who are vaccinated may still catch COVID-19. While the vast majority will not need hospitalisation, some people may still feel very unwell. Vaccination helps prevent infection and reduces transmission, but no vaccine is 100% effective and it’s important you continue practicing good hand hygiene.

I have had COVID-19 already, so I do not need the vaccine

Having COVID-19 does give you some protection from being infected again, but it may not last as long as the protection you get from being vaccinated. We know protection from vaccination lasts around six months and is more robust to new variants. If you have already had COVID-19 then vaccination gives your existing immunity an extra strong boost. The best immunity we see now is in people who are fully vaccinated after having had COVID-19.

To find further information about vaccinations visit the NHS site or call 111.

Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya is GP, Clinical Advisor to the National Vaccination and Screening Programme and Primary Care Team- NHS England, Member of GMC Council