I understand that children and the elderly should be vaccinated against the flu, but is it necessary for the entire family to be vaccinated as well?
Also known as the flu shot, the influenza vaccine is a yearly vaccine to protect against the influenza virus. Each vaccine consists of three influenza virus strains, and this year’s schedule covers AH1N1, AH3N2 and B. The vaccine should be taken yearly because of the influenza virus’ ability to mutate easily.
The flu shot is the most effective method for preventing influenza infection and its potential complications. However, its effectiveness depends on the age of the recipient.
While it is 75% effective on average, this may drop to 50% for those who are above 65 years.
It is estimated that about 250,000-500,000 people worldwide die from influenza and its complications each year, especially during winter.
The most susceptible people are those over 65 years.
Who should be immunised?
Children from the age of 6 months to two years and the elderly (above 65 years) are generally recommended for vaccination. These are the groups which are most susceptible to complications from the flu.
Others include those who suffer from asthma, chronic obstructive pathway disease (COPD), heart disease, chronic liver disease and chronic kidney disease; those with impaired immunity, eg, HIV patients; those on cancer treatment and long-term steroid treatment; healthcare providers; and those who stay in institutions like nursing homes or student dormitories.
Vaccine for the family
In the family context, young children and those above 65 years should be immunised. Because infants younger than six months cannot be immunised against the flu, care-givers should be vaccinated to prevent spreading the virus to infants.
If finance is not a constraint, even healthy young persons can take the jab. Those who are immunised against the flu are 25% less likely to get upper respiratory tract infections and, therefore, will be more productive in the work place.
Side-effects and contraindications
The most common side-effect of the flu shot is mild soreness, redness and swelling at the injection site. Sometimes, an immunised person may get mild flu-like symptoms like fever or a runny nose shortly after the immunisation and this may last for a couple of days.
As the flu vaccine is cultured from fertilised chicken eggs, it is not recommended for those who have an egg allergy. It is otherwise very safe.