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Stay well this winter

Why does the issue of receiving a flu jab cause such mixed feelings and controversy?

In our guest blog, Dr Ben Marshall gives his thoughts on the importance of the flu vaccine.

Why does the issue of receiving a flu jab cause such mixed feelings and controversy?

For me, it doesn’t really muster much in the way of any ambivalent thoughts. It’s not so much the security of knowing that having the vaccine provides me with my own personal protection against what is likely to be only a self-limiting, inconvenient short lived illness, but the fact that by not having one, and succumbing to the flu, I might be letting colleagues and team members down when I need to take days off on sick leave, absent from the frontline at a crucial time when my presence is most needed. Added to that, I could also go home and pass on the virus to other members of my family, including my young children.

It is also the fear that were I to contract a mild flu-like illness, not sufficient to keep me away from work but still just as contagious, I might inadvertently pass the virus on to someone more vulnerable, whose weakened immune system might render them more susceptible to contracting an infection, as well as to succumbing to a more severe form of the illness, potentially leaving them with a prolonged hospital stay or worse still, shortening their life.

In past years I have courted controversy by hopping on my soapbox and advocating the mandatory uptake of the flu vaccine by all frontline NHS members of staff.

So why do I keep campaigning at the risk of being accused of playing out like a stuck record every year?

Well, it’s because the evidence is out there for all to read - the vaccine is safe, highly efficacious, a cost-effective strategy and a thoroughly tried and tested intervention against a pathogen that it is very often not the innocuous germ that many of us have come to regard it as. This last year, a failure in the normally highly effective vaccine resulted in a spike in winter deaths in the UK (more than 16, 000 estimated excess deaths in the 2014-15 season), further evidence of the importance of a widespread vaccination campaign to limit the impact of seasonal influenza.  

Flu has always been, continues to be now and will always be a deadly virus for the very old and infirm. But by having the vaccine we can play our part to limit its scourge, keep ourselves in the best possible shape and help to reduce the spread of the virus.