As autumn and winter approach (more rapidly than we might have wanted), attention is increasingly turning to this year’s national flu vaccination campaign. The NHS Employers organisation takes a leading role every year in raising awareness through their NHS Flu Fighter campaign. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness among staff of the opportunities and benefits of having the seasonal flu vaccination and ensure that the uptake among NHS staff is higher than ever before.
It’s clear that healthcare workers need to be particularly vigilant about not passing the flu virus on to the patients in their care, but it’s actually in the interests of all organisations to ensure that those who are entitled to the flu vaccination actually receive it. This will help keep sickness absence and subsequent reductions in productivity and customer service in check. Flu is a highly contagious acute viral infection that affects people of all ages regardless of general health and fitness, and it is one of the main causes of short-term sickness absence in UK workplaces. Alongside good hygiene practices, vaccination is the simplest and most effective way of safeguarding against the spread of flu within the workforce each winter.
The NHS Choices website highlights some popular misconceptions about seasonal flu, some of which are listed below:
Flu is a mild illness, like having a cold, so I don’t need to be vaccinated.
For most people, flu is simply unpleasant. However, a bad bout can be much more dangerous, and you could become seriously ill and have to go to hospital. Globally, flu accounts for 3-5 million cases of severe illness and between 250,000 to 500,000 deaths each year.
The side effects of the vaccination are really bad – it gives you flu.
The flu jab contains no live viruses so cannot give you the flu. For most people the side effects are very mild (soreness around the site of the injection and occasionally some aching muscles or slightly raised temperature).
I don’t need to have the flu vaccine, I can take antibiotics instead.
Flu is in fact caused by viruses, and antibiotics will only work against bacteria. It is possible that having flu can cause a bacterial infection, in which case you may be given antibiotics separately.
I’ve had the flu jab before so I don’t need it again.
People need to be vaccinated annually as the viruses that cause flu can change every year. Read more about this winter’s flu vaccine.
I can’t have the jab because I’m pregnant.
Pregnant women should have the flu vaccination at any stage of their pregnancy. Having the vaccine protects their baby from flu over the first few months of life.
The flu jab doesn’t protect against swine flu
This year’s vaccine protects against the H1N1 swine flu virus as it is expected to be circulating this year.
Children aren’t eligible for the flu vaccine
Those over six months and who are ‘at risk’ of serious illness because of pre-existing conditions or chemotherapy treatment, are able to have the flu vaccine on the NHS. There is a nasal spray vaccine, which is also recommended for healthy two to eleven years olds.
The flu jab contains pork products.
There are no pork-based products or processes used in the manufacture of the seasonal flu jab.
You’re infectious after having the jab, so you shouldn’t have close contact with anyone for a period of time after you’re immunised.
The vaccine won’t make you infectious to anyone so it’s safe to carry on as normal.
Healthy people don’t get seasonal flu
Anyone can contract the virus whether they are generally healthy or not. Around 15-20% of the population gets flu each year and could pass it onto others, including those who are at risk of serious illness.
I’ve heard the vaccine doesn’t work.
The virus mutates so the vaccine cannot provide total protection, but it can give 60-70% protection for healthy adults.
The flu jab is recommended for those in certain ‘at risk’ groups who are at greater risk of developing complications from flu (e.g. pregnant women; people with chronic asthma, diabetes, chronic heart disease; the over 65’s; frontline health or social care workers), but people outside these recommended groups can make arrangements to pay for a flu vaccination privately, if desired.
In an uncertain economic climate it’s imperative that organisations keep their employees at work and fully productive so it’s well worth offering the flu vaccine to all staff as part of a wellbeing programme, even those who aren’t in ‘at risk’ groups and who would be offered the vaccine for free by their GP anyway. For guidance on flu in the workplace, or any other employee health-related matter, visit the Fit for Work website or call the advice line on 0800 032 6235.