Flu Vaccinations: Community Q & A

Dr Paraskevopoulou, a consultant in medical virology from University College London answered questions from Healthwatch members about the upcoming flu season and flu vaccinations
Syringe and flu vaccinations

Q1. If I’m at home, not going out because I’m scared of coronavirus, getting my shopping delivered and not seeing anyone, do I really need a flu jab?

If you’re alone in your house, not seeing anyone or having any contact with anyone you won’t be catching flu. However, the flu season can run from November to April and that’s a long time to not see anyone. It’s better to be safe and to have the vaccination as you can’t guarantee you won’t come into contact with someone.

Q2. Once you have had the flu, can you re-infect yourself and would this lead to a longer illness?

You wouldn’t catch the same strain of flu again, so you wouldn’t re-infect yourself. Others in your household could though. I’d give the same advice as for Covid-19 for those living in the house when someone has flu – clean communal areas such as door knobs etc.

Q3. I know people who say they got flu from the vaccine. Why might this be?

You can’t get flu from the ingredients of the vaccination. Someone might be unwell for the following reasons: The vaccine doesn’t work 100% of the time, the individual caught flu before the vaccine started to work, or it’s not flu and they have another respiratory illness.

Q4. Does having the flu vaccination every year weaken your immune system?

No, your immune system is designed to cope with new viruses all the time. It’s like saying, ‘if I run on this treadmill I will get weaker’.

Q5. Will the flu vaccination protect me from Coronavirus?

No. It won’t protect you from Covid-19 or any other respiratory viruses. There’s also no evidence that you would be more likely to catch Covid-19 after having the flu vaccination.

Q6. Do you think we should all be getting the flu vaccination this year – especially people from black and minority ethnic communities?

I am biased, but yes. I do think if you have the opportunity, I would recommend you have the flu vaccination this year. As BME people have a higher risk of having Covid-19 they would also benefit from the vaccine, so they don’t get flu and Covid-19 at the same time.

Q7. The pharmacist last year told me that the vaccine given to carers/those under 60 is inferior to the over 60s one.  I felt under the weather for a while straight after having it.  Would there be a connection?

The vaccination for under 65s is not inferior, it actually protects against 4 strains of flu while the vaccination for over 65s only protects against 3. The vaccination for over 65s contains something that helps to boost the immune response, as older people’s immune systems do not do this as well.

Q8. If the vaccination contains egg it’s not suitable for vegans. Does it contain gelatine?

Yes, gelatine is in the vaccination. It’s important not to confuse ethical issues when thinking about immunisations. Most Imams and Rabbis generally support vaccinations irrespective of the ingredients, because preservation of life is seen as more important. However, with veganism each person has to decide for themselves where they draw that line. I’d suggest researching into the manufacture of drugs and medication and deciding for yourself.

Q9. If I have multiple respiratory problems should I be staying at home as much as possible at the moment even if I’ve had the flu vaccination?

The presentation of Covid symptoms has been very varied. So, even though having a respiratory condition means you are more likely to catch Covid-19, we cannot know what symptoms you’d have. I do think it’s best to shield yourself as much as possible but not to your psychological detriment. There’s a personal risk assessment you need to consider.

Q10. If someone has sickle cell trait does it make any difference to how well you’d recover from Covid-19 or flu? And would you recommend having the flu vaccination even if they don’t fall within the NHS groups?

If someone is in their early 30’s and has sickle cell traits, should they get the vaccine? I’m biased – yes! Our experience so far is that there’s no direct connection between sickle cell traits and recovery from either of these viruses. But it’s good to be safe.

Q11. Although the government has said there will be sufficient vaccine to cover everybody who needs it this year, it has failed to live up to many of its other health-related commitments.  Will there be enough vaccine this year?

Covid-19 has raised a lot of issues and made many things much harder. We have been thinking about flu from the start of Covid-19 and a lot of investment has gone into the manufacturing of the vaccine. London has had a request to optimise the vaccinations, but I know we have at least 100,000 in North Central London.

Q12. Should we all be taking vitamin D? And do you have a key message for older people?

Many of us should be taking vitamin D and it can’t hurt. However, losing weight and stopping smoking will have a greater effect on our ability to recover if we catch Covid-19. The key message for older people would be – wash your hands! And try not to fixate on things.

More information about the flu and flu vaccinations

  • This information was shared at the Flu Vaccinations and Covid-19 event we hosted online on 16 September. Read the meeting notes to find out what else we learned.
  • The North Central London Clinical Commissioning Group website also has a lot of useful information, including videos and resources in other community languages.

Find out more

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