Recent scares about shortages of ‘flu vaccinations, while at the same time the free jabs are being rolled out to a wider public, emphasise the importance of keeping your jabs up to date. At the same time politicians have been talking about the ‘anti-vax’ propaganda pervading the internet. So why are vaccinations so crucial to public health?
See Also: Cold or Flu?
From ‘flu to flying
- Influenza: The influenza vaccine is available to anyone on the NHS every year, and special groups can get it free. This includes the elderly, pregnant women, people with underlying health conditions (such as long-term heart disease), and people with weakened immune systems. It also may be recommended to people who work in people facing health roles or social care workers, as well as children in primary school (who may take it as a nasal spray).
- You might feel a little down after having a ‘flu jab, but this doesn’t mean you have ‘flu; the vaccination does not contain living ‘flu virus. Your immune system, though, may react to the jab to give you some short-lived, minor ‘flu-like symptoms.
- Travel: Not all foreign travel requires vaccinations, but check the NHS website or countries which do have recommended of mandatory vaccinations. Parts of Africa for example require you to have proof of being immunised against yellow fever. The most common travel vaccinations are for Hepatis A, Diphtheria and sometimes, Hep B. Some types of travel may require a rabies vaccination, and protection against cholera.
- MMR: After the UK lost its measles-free status due to reduced rates of MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccinations, health authorities are urging every parent to get their child vaccinated (in fact there is talk of making it compulsory). The MMR vaccine is widely available on the NHS and is usually given in two doses over a period of time.
- Pneumococcal: Pneumonia can affect anyone; however certain groups are more at risk of serious consequences of the disease therefore are given it free on the NHS. This includes babies, adults aged over 65, and people with long term conditions. The vaccination is given in three doses for babies whereas older people only need it once. This vaccine is part of the childhood vaccination programme.
- Meningitis: The MMR vaccine can often protect against meningitis, as measles, mumps and rubella can sometimes cause complications that may lead to the disease. However, in recent years the Meningitis B vaccine has been adapted, which protects against meningococcal group B bacteria, which is a common cause of the disease, especially amongst children.
- HPV: The HPV vaccine is mainly known for protecting against cervical cancer, however also has a huge effect on preventing mouth and throat cancers and some cancers of the anal and genital areas. It used to be routinely offered in schools to girls in the UK aged 12 and 13, however since 2018, it is also being offered to boys of the same age.
Private vs NHS
With the current media panic about NHS shortage of vaccinations, you may want to enquire with a private clinic where there are less likely to be shortages. Travel vaccinations for example, are vital yet sometimes inaccessible to the NHS, particularly if you need an immunisation for a disease such as Japanese Encephalitis, which only affects Asian countries, and is therefore less common.
Private clinics can also often offer shorter waiting times, particularly useful for any last minute vaccinations, such as meningitis, which needs to be done before the start of a school or university term. Additionally, the HPV vaccine is always offered in schools in Year 8, but some may prefer a more private setting, without the wait.
Private clinics will usually have a nurse or doctor specialising in travel vaccinations, and may be in a better position to spend time discussing with you the vaccinations you may need.
See Also: Immunisations for Every Age
Easier and time efficient
If you are a new parent looking to get your child vaccinated for MMR or pneumonia, it NHS surgeries may require you to come for several appointments. Private clinics are more likely to allow you to get your child vaccinated in one appointment, which ultimately saves time and prevents your child from having to go through multiple injections. The same can apply to adults , where it may be preferable to get a course of vaccines done in one sitting, in order to save time off work.
Whichever you choose, make sure you get all the regular and special vaccinations you need, for the sake of your own health and that of others.
This feature was originally published in the winter edition of Live to 100 with Dr Hilary Jones, which you can read here