Kasia Trojanowska

Kasia Trojanowska

Why I will get the flu vaccine this year

24 September 2021

As communities begin to open up after months of COVID-19 restrictions, immunisation against flu may offer extra protection from serious illness.

Sometime around September last year, during the first or second of what seemed like many lockdowns, we had a virtual meeting at work in which we all shared the things we’d been missing the most. Some of us said it was the stuff of everyday life – getting coffee around the corner from our office, stopping at a pub after a country walk; some missed time with their friends and family. For me, it was theatre – sitting in a dark room with strangers, all absorbed in the story unfolding in front of us, each performance different than the one before.

I, too, had missed my family and friends, but I could still see them on a screen so we wouldn’t lose touch. It was a community with strangers that I knew we weren’t going to be able to return to any time soon.

 

How dangerous is flu anyway?

I’ve only had flu once and it was awful, but I’d still ignore the yearly vaccination campaigns that appear with the same, tedious regularity every autumn. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic still very much a reality, I feel differently.

Being ill with flu could be a minor inconvenience if you’re otherwise healthy, but people living with health conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, are at risk of serious illness, which can make flu life threatening.

I, too, had missed my friends and family, but it was a community with strangers that I knew we weren’t going to be able to return to any time soon.

The number of deaths associated with flu has ranged from 4,000 to 22,000 in recent years in England alone. During the 2020/21 flu season, these figures were much lower; it hardly seemed worth getting the vaccine then. With most people in the UK being told not to go out for anything but essential food provisions, and with social distancing measures in place, the threat of catching flu seemed low. It no longer feels that way, though.

 

What makes the 2021/22 flu season different?

In the UK, COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted and social contact is resuming, all the more intensively because we’d been deprived of it for so long. The natural immunity to flu that most of us would usually build by being exposed to the virus throughout the year may not be there now. This means that the risk of catching flu this winter may be higher than ever.

 

Flu and COVID-19 are a dangerous combination

Flu is caused by influenza viruses that spread when people cough, sneeze or talk. The flu season runs in autumn and winter (November to February in the northern hemisphere), which happens to be when another spike in COVID-19 infections is expected this year. Timing is important because being ill with both flu and COVID-19 doubles the risk of dying.

Timing is important: being ill with both flu and COVID‑19 doubles the risk of dying.

The threat of death may sound exaggerated – haven’t we been told that it’s only the most vulnerable who are at risk? Well, yes, but we know that young, healthy people can also fall seriously ill or die of COVID-19. Coupled with flu, the odds don’t seem to be stacked in anyone’s favour.

 

Getting the flu vaccine during the pandemic – is it worth it?

We may be tired of living under the threat of an illness, and fed up with hearing about yet another vaccine, but the flu virus has not disappeared from the world. When paired with the other, more deadly virus that has dominated the past 18 months, it may still wreak havoc.

So, for the first time, this year I will be registering with my pharmacy for the flu vaccine. I want to sit in a dark theatre hall once again and feel safe among strangers.

 

If you’d like to get the flu vaccine or have any questions or concerns about it, speak to your general practitioner or pharmacist.

 

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Health Policy Partnership.
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