There is widespread apprehension this year as flu season approaches on the backdrop of Covid-19. In this article, we tell you everything you need to know about the pneumonia vaccination, based on first-hand experience and NHS information.
What is the Pneumonia vaccine?
The pneumococcal vaccine protects against serious and potentially fatal pneumococcal infections. It’s also known as the pneumonia vaccine.
Pneumococcal infections are from a bacteria, ‘Streptococcus pneumoniae’, which mostly lives harmlessly in the back of the nose and throat. However, it can lead to pneumonia, septicaemia (a kind of blood poisoning) and meningitis.
Who should have the pneumococcal vaccine?
A pneumococcal infection can affect anyone. But some people are at higher risk of serious illness, so they can receive the pneumococcal vaccination on the NHS.
- adults aged 65 or over
- children and adults with certain long-term health conditions, such as a serious heart or kidney condition
The Department of Health recommends the national pneumococcal immunisation programme for people aged 65 or over and those in clinical risk groups because for those people, pneumococcal infections can be more common or more serious. The NHS provides the vaccine free of charge for eligible patients. Your doctor or nurse will determine if you are eligible. People do not usually need to have a second dose. Subsequently, your doctor or nurse will be able to decide if and when you need a further dose.
The different types of pneumococcal vaccine
The type of pneumococcal vaccine you get depends on your age and health. There are 2 types.
Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is for children under 2 years old as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme. It’s known by the brand name Prevenar 13.
Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPV) is for people aged 65 and over and people at high risk because they have long-term health conditions.
Children at risk of pneumococcal infections can have the PPV vaccine from the age of 2 years onwards.
The PPV vaccine is not very effective in children under the age of 2.
How the pneumococcal vaccine works
Both types of pneumococcal vaccine encourage your body to produce antibodies against pneumococcal bacteria.
Antibodies are proteins made by the body to neutralise or destroy disease-carrying organisms and toxins.
They protect you from becoming ill if you’re infected with the bacteria.
The childhood vaccine (PCV) protects against 13 strains of the pneumococcal bacterium, while the adult vaccine (PPV) protects against 23 strains.
Children respond very well to the PCV. The introduction of this vaccine into the NHS childhood vaccination programme has resulted in a large reduction in pneumococcal disease.
The PPV vaccine is thought to be around 50 to 70% effective at preventing pneumococcal disease.
Both the PPV and the PCV are “killed” vaccines and do not contain any live organisms. They cannot cause the disease they protect against.
Side effects of the pneumococcal vaccine
Like most vaccines, the childhood and adult versions of the pneumococcal vaccine can sometimes cause mild side effects.
- a mild fever
- redness at the site of the injection
- hardness or swelling at the site of the injection
There are no serious side effects for either the childhood or adult versions of the vaccine, apart from an extremely rare risk of serious allergic reaction.
Why is it important to protect yourself this year particularly?
Coronavirus has recently seen a spike once more, raising fears the UK is dangling on the precipice of a second wave. Incoming cold weather could mean both diseases spread with ease, causing a double assault which could come with devastating consequences. Therefore, protecting yourself with a vaccine could help take the pressure off the NHS if Covid-19 hospital admissions do go up.
It is important to note that the pneumonia vaccine does not provide any protection against the COVID-19 virus, and vaccine trials for coronavirus are currently ongoing.
What is flu and the flu vaccine?
Flu vaccination is available every year on the NHS to help protect adults and children at risk from flu and its complications.
Flu is extremely unpleasant and debilitating and considerably more than a severe cold, but if you’re otherwise healthy, it’ll usually clear up on its own in about a week.
But flu can be more severe in certain people, such as:
- anyone aged 65 and over
- pregnant women
- children and adults with an underlying health condition (such as long-term heart or respiratory disease)
- children and adults with weak immune systems
Anyone in these risk groups is more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu, such as pneumonia (a lung infection), so they should have a flu vaccine every year to help protect them.
This autumn, people aged 50-64 may get the flu vaccine for free if they have any left. Do not hesitate in getting the flu jab if you are able and eligible to do so. However, you can go privately and pay for the vaccine, so please don’t wait for the free offer if you are able to afford it.
Where to get the flu vaccine
You can have your NHS flu vaccine at:
- your GP surgery
- a local pharmacy offering the service
- your midwifery service if they offer it for pregnant women
Some community pharmacies now offer flu vaccination to adults (but not children) at risk from flu, including pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, people with long-term health conditions and carers.
If you have your flu vaccine at a pharmacy, you do not have to inform a GP. It’s up to the pharmacist to do that.
How often do I need the vaccine?
Adults will only need the pneumococcal vaccine ones. However, it is important to get a flu vaccine each flu season. Every year they predict which flu strains are likely to affect the population. Having the flu increases your risk of getting pneumococcal disease.
How do you catch flu and can I avoid it?
Similar to Coronavirus, the Flu virus is spread liberally in tiny droplets of saliva or mucus, when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes. The virus can survive on surfaces for many hours.
In order to prevent the spread of the virus ensure that you cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Furthermore, avoid touching your face in a public environment such as a bus or train, use hand gels to reduce the risk of picking up the virus while out and wash your hands regularly.
Hopefully the additional hygiene and infection control measures in place to protect everyone from Covid-19, will also help reduce the rate of infection from flu and even the common cold.
However, one of the best ways to protect yourself against flu is by having a flu vaccination before flu season commences.
What to do if you suspect you have flu:
Many Flu symptoms are similar to those of Covid-19 and therefore it is important to isolate yourself and get a Covid-19 test. Assume you are Covid positive, until proven otherwise.
There is no need to visit your GP if you are suffering from flu as there is nothing they can do to help you fight it. However, if you develop complications or are seriously worried please phone the surgery and get additional medical advice.
The key advice to recover as quickly as possible is:
- Rest and sleep
- Keep warm
- Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat aches and pains as well as lower your temperature.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid dehydration (urine should be pale yellow or clear)
Pharmacists can give treatment advice and recommend flu remedies that can help you to feel better.
Read our ultimate flu survival guide here.
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